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US Urges Negotiators to Show Flexibility in Sudan Peace Talks - 2004-01-15

The United States Thursday called on the two sides in the Sudan peace talks to show the leadership needed to conclude an early agreement ending the country's two-decade-long civil war. President Bush's special envoy for Sudan, John Danforth, has joined the talks in Kenya this week.

The parties missed their self-declared December 31 deadline for an agreement. But Bush administration officials say they believe a final deal can be reached this month if there is sufficient will to do so on the part of the Khartoum government and southern rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Army, the SPLA.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States is urging the sides "to demonstrate the necessary leadership" to finish an agreement.

He also said the growing humanitarian problem in the Darfur region of western Sudan, where fighting between the government and local insurgents has sent a wave of refugees into neighboring Chad, has added to the urgency of concluding a north-south peace accord.

At a briefing for foreign reporters in Washington, the State Department's top Africa diplomat Charles Snyder said the detailed wealth-sharing agreement reached by the government and SPLA earlier this month shows they can have a real political partnership.

He said while talks on the most difficult remaining issue, the status of three disputed regions in central Sudan, have gone on longer than U.S. officials would have liked, there have been "some serious advances" and a final accord could only be days away.

"This is an African negotiation, and it's a Sudanese negotiation that has to end the right way. And I think there's a real chance that it can end in the next several days the right way," he said. "They know the issues. They know what the answers to the questions are. The political choices that have to be made are among the answers that they know exist. It's not a case where they have to think through the subject matter anymore. They have to decide in the end-game what they're going to trade for what."

Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the negotiations in Kenya in October and told negotiators the Bush administration was prepared to invite officials of the Sudanese government and SPLA to a White House event to celebrate an eventual accord.

However, Mr. Snyder, the acting assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Washington might not necessarily be the right place to sign what he termed an "inevitable" agreement, given the contributions of others to the peace process, including Kenya and the East African economic grouping IGAD.

"The partners should decide where the signing takes place. Nairobi makes more sense to me," he said. "They [the Kenyans] are the ones that did the work. But if somebody decides it's better to do it in the United States, it's better to do it in London, it's better to do it Oslo, it's better to do it in Addis [Ababa] because that's where the A.U. headquarters is, that's for the parties to decade. What needs to be done is it needs to be done in a public forum that commits the parties in a very splashy way, but splashy in a good sense of commitment before the audience, before the world, before their own communities, that this is a real deal."

The U.S. special envoy Mr. Danforth, a former U.S. senator named to the post in 2001, has held talks with the two Sudanese parties and Kenyan mediators this week at the negotiation site at the Kenyan lakeside resort of Naivasha.