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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Update on the Referendum Vote for Independence in Southern Sudan

Johnnie Carson
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs

Ambassador Princeton Lyman, head of the Sudan Negotiation Support Unit; and Larry Garber, USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator for Africa
Washington, DC
January 11, 2011

Date: 01/11/2011 Location: Washington D.C. Description: Assistant Secretary of African Affairs Johnnie Carson; Ambassador Princeton Lyman, head of the Sudan Negotiation Support Unit; and Larry Garber, USAID give an update on the referendum vote for independence in Southern Sudan at the Washington Foreign Press Center. - State Dept Image

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for joining us at the Foreign Press Center. My name is Dick Custin. I’d like to welcome you and our guests here this afternoon. Before we get started, I’d like to remind you turn off your cell phones, all of your mobile devices, so we don’t have any ringing or interruptions during the event.

We’re delighted to have Ambassador Johnnie Carson with us here today – he is the Assistant Secretary for African Affairs – along with Ambassador Princeton Lyman, the head of Sudan Negotiation Support Unit, and Larry Garber from USAID. He’s the deputy assistant administrator for Africa. And they’re going to be speaking on the referendum in Sudan and how things are progressing. So we begin with Ambassador Carson.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Dick, thank you very much for the kind introduction, and good to see all of you this afternoon. The referendum on Southern Sudan’s independence is going extremely well. The polling process is scheduled to last seven days and end on January 15th. Thus far, we are extremely pleased with the high turnout and cooperation of officials from both the North and the South.

The process has been well organized, orderly, and peaceful, with only a handful of reported disturbances occurring in Abyei and in Northern Sudan near the North-South border. There has been no report of violence in the South. Officials from the North and South should be commended for their excellent cooperation and for their handling of this monumental, challenging, and historical task.

As we all know, this referendum is a historic moment for Sudan, for Africa, and for the international community. The people of Southern Sudan are determining whether they will remain a part of a united Sudan or whether they will become an independent sovereign state. The referendum marks the last major phase of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the representatives of the North and the South in January 2005.

More critical work needs to be done in the coming weeks and months to ensure final implementation of the CPA. Issues related to Abyei, to citizenship, to wealth-sharing and oil, as well as borders and security, will have to be resolved in the months ahead to complete the CPA process in its entirety. However, the Sudanese Government and people have defied the skeptics in coming this far. Just as few days remain before the polls close, and we are very hopeful that the Sudanese people will continue their efforts to ensure that the process remains peaceful and on course. The United States is deeply committed to doing everything possible to ensure the referendum and final implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement lead to an outcome in which the Sudanese people can prosper peacefully, either under a single unified state or under two independent states.

President Obama and his senior foreign policy team, particularly Secretary of State Clinton, UN Ambassador Susan Rice, Deputy National Security Advisor Dennis McDonough, and Special Envoy General Scott Gration, have made Sudan one of their top foreign policy priorities and have put an enormous amount of effort into supporting the Sudanese people through this critical juncture in their history. Our determination is to see this process through successfully. A successful referendum is in the best interest of the Sudanese people, in the best interest of Africa and regional stability, and certainly in the best interest of the international community. We all want to make this process successful, and our commitment remains there to do so. I’ll stop there.

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Thank you. Let me add my thanks to your being here today. I just came back from Sudan. I was able to visit some of the polling stations in Northern Sudan, and of course we have representatives visiting polling stations throughout the North and the South. And as Ambassador Carson has said, the process is working very well. We have many, many observers there. We have observers there from the Carter Center, from the European Union, from the Arab League, from the Africa Union, from the EGAD Group of states, and a very important observer mission from the United Nations headed by former Tanzanian president, President Mkapa.

So the comments and judgments made by these observers will be very important in judging the adequacy, fairness, and arrangement of the referendum. The results will take some time, of course, to be announced. The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission has 30 days in which to do so. They may be able to complete that sooner, but that gives you a sense of the timetable.

I think it’s a tremendous credit to an awful lot of people, to the governments of both – the Government of Sudan and the government of Southern Sudan for working together to make it happen, to the chairman of the Southern Sudan Referendum Commission, Chairman Khalil, who had to bring together the commission, get them working together, incorporate the advice from international supporters, and make it possible when many sane people thought it couldn’t be possible to hold the referendum on time, January 9th. And a great deal of work from the United Nations and from international helpers – my colleague, Larry Garber, will be talking about the support the United States and various American institutions gave, which were extremely important.

We – once this process is complete, then some very hard work needs to be done in Sudan on addressing what are called the post-referendum issues, that is the arrangements that will exist between two entities, whether they’re a part of a unified Sudan or if it’s two separate states, on such things on sharing oil revenue, finalizing border arrangements, security arrangements, economic cooperation, issues of currency, etcetera. These issues did not get resolved before the referendum, and now they must be resolved in the remaining months of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which comes to conclusion on July 9th in 2011. So there’s a lot of work still to be done.

Now, Ambassador Carson mentioned that there has been violence in recent days, particularly in Abyei. This is a very tense situation in Abyei. Of course, people there are understandably upset because there was also supposed to be a self-determination referendum in Abyei to determine whether the people of Abyei want to be part of the North or part of the South. They are currently in the North. But because of disagreements over voter eligibility, the commission was never created for that referendum and hasn’t been held. And negotiations between the North and South over the future of Abyei have not resulted in a resolution of its future, so people there are impatient and upset.

But it’s also the beginning of the annual migration of nomadic herds from the North down through Abyei and from Abyei into other parts of Southern Sudan. It’s always a tense period while those arrangements are being made, and they haven’t made those agreements yet for how the migration will proceed. A lot of people are coming together, and the cattle are coming together, and so there’s a lot of tension, and that may explain some of the violence going on.

A number of entities are working very hard to bring this under control. The United Nations has representatives up there. The Special Representative Haile Menkerios was just in Abyei. The governor of South Kardofan is coming tomorrow with a number of Miisseriya chiefs to Abyei Town to meet with the chief administrator and representatives of the Dinka, and we’re hoping with everybody working together this situation can be contained and the arrangements for the migration can proceed. So far, that has not affected the referendum in any way, which is a positive thing, but we are watching the Abyei situation very closely.

So that’s where we are today and where we have to go in the future. And let me now turn it over to my colleague, Larry Garber.

MR. GARBER: Thanks, Princeton. Let me start by making a few points about what the U.S. Government has provided in terms of assistance for the referendum and then provide a broader context of what the United States Government is trying to do in terms of our development assistance program in Sudan, and particularly with respect to Southern Sudan.

With respect to the referendum, as Ambassador Lyman mentioned, we have been heavily involved, and this provides a great example of how diplomacy and development assistance really work together and need to work together. In terms of what we were able to do in Sudan with both the diplomacy that Ambassador Lyman and General Gration engaged in plus the support that we provided through USAID, we helped the Southern Sudanese Referendum Commission with technical assistance. We helped provide and procure various materials during the registration period, and with respect to the current polling period, and made sure that these materials were in place, on time; supported the training of the officials who are carrying out the registration and the referendum process throughout Southern Sudan and in the North, and also in the eight countries overseas where voting is taking place, including here in the United States.

We also had a very extensive civic education program through a number of partners with whom we’re working. We supported and we are supporting a domestic monitoring operation in Sudan with Sudanese nongovernmental organizations that are working together to ensure an effective monitoring of the referendum process; also worked with the political parties in Southern Sudan to ensure that they were trained to contribute to the referendum process also through monitoring; and, as Ambassador Lyman said, are supporting international observers, particularly the Carter Center group led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

But I really want to put this is in a broader context because our efforts certainly are not limited to the referendum assistance. Indeed, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, the U.S. Government has provided nearly $10 billion in assistance, ranging from peacekeeping to peace building. Our support has provided safe water, dependable roads, health services for mothers and children, and functioning schools. Our investments in Southern Sudan have provided opportunities for the Sudanese to build a better future and to develop the institutions that are critical, regardless of whatever the outcome is, whether there’s independence or a continuation of a Government of Sudan in a broader Sudan.

We’ve been partners working the Government of Southern Sudan from its inception in the outcome of – in the aftermath of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, supporting them as they have worked to build brand new institutions basically from scratch and standardizing systems that are helping them to respond to their citizens’ needs.

In terms of some of the milestones that were listed under the Comprehensive Peace Agreement – the undertaking of a census; elections which took place in April; the popular consultations that are taking place in two of the states in the North, as well as the current referendum process – we have been out there providing critical assistance. But we have also been working on various development programs which are designed to demonstrate the benefits of peace in Southern Sudan after more than 20 years of civil war. So far, our assistance has provided over 1.5 million doses of malaria treatment and 3 million bed nets. We’ve improved access of water, clean water, to more than 200,000 people, trained 2,300 teachers, improved 680 miles of roads, and provided loans to 7,000 entrepreneurs.

We believe that this development is critical to U.S. national security as part of this broader picture of our support to a future peaceful Sudan, and we see this area as a potential breadbasket for much of Africa and beyond.

Let me just say a word about Darfur. Our investments there have saved hundreds of thousands of lives and protected civilians from violence. The United States will continue to provide lifesaving assistance to the millions of Darfuris who are affected by this conflict until the humanitarian situation improves.

Our sustained engagement in Sudan aims to address all the issues, both those related to the ongoing conflicts, as well as what we really hope, which is a long and prosperous peace that will emerge out of the current referendum process and the implementation of the CPA.

Thank you very much.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. We’ll take your questions now, but if I could remind you to wait until the microphone arrives where you are, and also give your name and the name of your news agency. I also want to mention that we’re joined by our colleagues at the Foreign Press Center in New York. So if any of our New York colleagues would like to ask a question, please just appear on camera, and I’ll call on you. So, we’ll start here in the front.

QUESTION: Nadia Bilbassy with MBC Television, Middle East Broadcasting Center. My question is for Ambassador Carson. You said that you were happy with the outcome of the referendum, yet there are certain points of the CPA needed to be implemented. At what stage the United States wants to see Sudan be removed from the state of sponsor of terror or maybe sanctions being eased or lifted? And the current tension between the Misseriya and the Dinka tribe in Abyei – are you worried that’s going to be exploited by either the North or the rebel groups within the SPLA?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Thank you. We can do two people. I’ll start off and then I’ll ask Ambassador Lyman if he wants to make additional comments.

Let me say that the referendum is a part of the last phase of the implementation of the CPA. We still, as Ambassador Lyman has pointed out and as I made in my comments, have still much to do over the next six months, should the people of Southern Sudan choose to vote for independence. If they do indeed vote for independence, there will be many issues that have to be resolved, including citizenship, wealth sharing, boundaries, and of course, the issue of Abyei – either through a referendum or some type of political solution.

The Administration has said and has presented to the Government of Khartoum a roadmap that can lead them away from the designation of state sponsor of terrorism. We set down two broad criteria for that. One is the full implementation of the CPA, including a successful referendum and the resolution of the post-referendum issues. The second is to fulfill the criteria under law that must be met to be removed from the state sponsors list. One of those is the demonstration by the Government of Khartoum that it has not supported directly or indirectly international terrorist groups operating globally or from their country. And they must have not been engaged in supporting, aiding or abetting terrorism for at least six months prior to the designation being lifted. The Administration offered this as an incentive to move the CPA process forward so that implementation could, in fact, be done.

The United States seeks to not only help Sudan, Southern Sudan, if it becomes an independent state, to be a prosperous and a successful state but we also, if they choose to have two states, seek to have a normalized relationship with the North. That is possible, if in fact the Government of Sudan lives up to the two criteria – the two broad strategic criteria that we’ve set down.

QUESTION: Thank you. I mean, I understand the practical points, but some might look at your position and they will say that you will be criticized for compromising with President Bashir, who will be indicted by the ICC. Where does it stand in terms of giving an example to other countries, particularly in Africa?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: This is about the broad relationship between the United States and Sudan. The United States continues to believe that President Bashir should cooperate with the ICC and agree to answer the charges that have been leveled against him. Irrespective of this, we seek to have a better relationship with the Government of Sudan. That is indeed possible if we see the kind of progress that we have sought with respect to implementation of the CPA and with respect to not supporting or aiding or abetting, directly or indirectly, international national terrorist organizations. We look to have a normalized relationship with a government in Sudan, and notwithstanding the need for President Bashir to answer the charges that have been leveled against him by the international community and the ICC.

MODERATOR: Another question? Yes, right here.

QUESTION: I’m Ingeborg Eliassen of the Aftenblad of Norway. It’s a follow-up of the last question. How do you think this is going so far? It seems that you have – you are extremely satisfied with the way things have been going for the past days? And I wonder how do you see this fact that the leader of the North is indicted for war crimes as playing into the crucial times ahead now until July?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Thank you. First of all, let me just mention that Norway has provided a special envoy for Sudan, a very distinguished diplomat, Tom Vraalsen, who has done a wonderful job. And Norway has also played a major role in assisting both parties to think through the complexity of the oil sector and what the options are.

Now with regard to your question, as Ambassador Carson said, it’s very important that out of this process both North and Southern Sudan come out as viable states if the South votes for secession, that both become economically viable. That goes beyond the individuality of the president. It goes to all the people of North and Southern Sudan.

So when it comes to issues, both referendum issues like the debt issue, for example, a $37 billion debt, or access to resources for agricultural development because the oil cannot be sustained as the only support basis, and for opening up other trade opportunities. This is important for the viability of North as well as Southern Sudan. So our policies are aimed at that. Now, as Ambassador Carson said, there is a question of impunity, there is a question of justice and accountability in Darfur, and that has to proceed.

But what we see in this is something that is important for both North and South. And we are trying to encourage both North and South to see the opportunities in resolving these issues and moving on and coming out for the North of international isolation as important to the long-term future of both. And I think that’s the way we’ve conveyed it, and hopefully that’s the way they see it.

MODERATOR: Okay. And a question in the back, over here. Great.

QUESTION: I’m Mohammad Shaligh from Asharq-al-Awsat, a newspaper in London. My question is: In the CPA there is a clause about working first the unity. How the United States Government been working on strengthening the unity option?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: You’re absolutely right. There was a provision, and the idea in 2005 was very much that unity was an important option if the two sides came to that agreement.

What I think has happened in recent times, and certainly over the last year or two, is that the sentiment in the South seems to be moving in the other direction. We have not taken a position on which way the referendum should go. This is really a vote of self-determination by the people in the South and that they have that free choice. We have urged that there be open and free campaigning on the issue. But it looks like – it looks like the sentiment in the South has moved very much toward secession, but we have to see what the outcome is.

QUESTION: I just one quick follow up and then --

QUESTION: I’d like to follow up. You used the two words – you used “looks” and “seems.” If it’s right into the agreement, why didn’t the United States work towards unity?

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: Well, the – it is the agreement of the parties and to make unity attractive. That was the understanding. And we did nothing to counter that at all. It was up to the two parties to make unity attractive. If that hasn’t happened, it’s not up to the United States to have done that. The – what we have done, and all the other – those who are observers and guarantors of the process, was to see the two parties work to implement it. And it’s up to the people of the South to decide whether unity is indeed attractive.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Haykaram Nahapetyan . I’m from the Armenian TV. You mentioned about the self-determination. And there are two principles kind of contradicting each other: territorial integrity principle and right of people for the self-determination. And those who supported territorial integrity, they claim that this principle of the international law prevails over powers – their self-determination right in the system of the international relations. But can we say that in this particular situation, if people vote for independent Sudan, sovereign Sudan, then the principle of self-determination kind of overpowers and – vis-à-vis – versus territorial integrity? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR LYMAN: I think the key point here is that the two parties agreed on the right of self-determination for the people of the South. It wasn’t a question that outsiders said territorial integrity does not apply here, but a civil war that is going on for over two decades in which 2 million people have been killed and refugees of almost an equivalent number. Part of the peace process that brought an end to that civil war was an agreement by both parties. Otherwise it’s self-determination.

So I think if both parties, including what is, right now, a government of national unity, says that a certain portion of the people have that right, then that’s a sovereign decision that the government has made. So I don’t think it’s principles working against other; I think it is a sovereign decision of a government to say these people – this part of our country has that right.


QUESTION: Ai Awaji from Jiji Press. Thank you for doing this. Following up on the previous question about the removal from the terrorism list – so are there are any sanctions that are going to be lifted as a result of this possible removal from the list? Or is there any other things that the northern government should do, other than implementing CPA, to see that?

ASSITANT SECRETARY CARSON: The United States has a large sanctions regime on the Government of Sudan. Most of those sanctions are tied to the resolution of the conflict in Darfur. Most of those sanctions will, in fact, remain in place until we see the Darfur crisis resolved.

But let me say that the removal of Khartoum from the state sanctions – state sponsors of sanctions – state sponsor of terrorism list is an enormous incentive to the Government of Khartoum. We would also expect that over the course of time that the United States would seek also to upgrade its diplomatic relations with Khartoum by sending in higher-level representation into Khartoum, perhaps at the ambassadorial level – again, a strong signal that we seek to normalize our relationship to put it on a firmer foundation and to incentivize the Government of Khartoum to make the same kind of sustained progress on resolving the humanitarian and political crisis in Darfur, which is, in fact, being carried out today through the referendum in South Sudan.

MODERATOR: Other questions? Okay. Oh, just one more. Well, we’re going to come to you a little later, all right? Okay. So we’ll hold off on that. Any other questions? Okay, thank you very much.

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