The United States is inviting officials of the Sudanese government and southern rebels to Washington next month for talks aimed at helping to move the parties toward a comprehensive peace agreement in Kenya. The peace talks in Kenyan town of Machakos recessed last week and are to resume in early January.
The United States has strongly supported Sudanese peace efforts, and what U.S. officials describe as "seminars" to be held next month in Washington are aimed at narrowing differences between the government and rebels on key issues including power sharing and dividing the country's oil wealth.
State Department officials say they expect the meetings to held in mid-to-late-December, in advance of the resumption of the peace talks in Kenya January sixth.
They declined specifics on who will represent the Sudanese parties or the Bush administration, but say senior U.S. diplomats will take part along with American technical experts on the subjects at issue in the Machakos talks.
The so-called seminars, they say, would not be negotiations in themselves, but rather an opportunity to explore ways to overcome the obstacles in the talks.
The United States stepped up its efforts to help bring an end to the African conflict more than a year ago when President Bush named former Senator John Danforth a special envoy for Sudan.
Mr. Danforth helped negotiate a partial truce early this year. But fighting continued intermittently until the sides agreed on another cease-fire in mid-October and to resume the peace talks mediated by Kenya and other members of the East African grouping IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
The latest round of Machakos talks ended November 18th with an agreement to extend the cease-fire but no deal on power-sharing - a pivotal issue in any effort to end the ruinous 19-year-old civil war.
An estimated two million people have died in the fighting or war-related famine in the conflict, which pits the government in the predominately-Muslim north against Christian and animist rebels in the south.
The war and its humanitarian toll have been attracting increased attention in the United States.
Last month, the Congress approved with bipartisan support the Sudan Peace Act, which provides peace incentives including the prospect of large-scale reconstruction U.S. aid to the Khartoum government, but also possible U.S. sanctions if it does not bargain in good faith.
In signing the measure October 21, President Bush said there was an "unprecedented opportunity" to end the war and lay foundations for a just and lasting peace.