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January 17, 2013

US Envoy Warns Hardliners in Sudan, South Sudan

by John Tanza

The outgoing U.S special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan says oil is the key to the future of the two nations.

Ambassador Princeton Lyman urged Presidents Salva Kiir of South Sudan and Omar Al Bashir of Sudan to work towards a peaceful resolution of their differences in order to avoid another full-blown war.

A dispute over oil fees led to a shutdown last January of production in South Sudan. Currently the only way oil can reach international markets is through southern pipelines and production facilities. Since being appointed special envoy by President Barack Obama in March 2011, Ambassador Lyman regularly has engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Sudan and South Sudan.

The envoy said the conflict between the two countries bears a resemblance to the African National Congress’s struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He said his experience as U.S. ambassador to South Africa from1992-95, has helped him mediate the conflict between Juba and Khartoum. 

‘’There were lessons there, lessons about statesmanship on the part of both President Mandela and then President F.W. de Klerk. [There were] certain principles that they reached in the course of the negotiations at one critical point not to let spoilers get in the way,’’ he said.   

He expressed frustration over the lack of implementation of several agreements on oil fees, security and citizenship issues reached between the two countries more than three months ago.  Lyman said, ‘’even though South Sudan became independent peacefully, all the issues that go to setting a state to state relationship have been very slow in coming,’’ Lyman said. 

He accused some elements in both ruling parties, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) in Juba and the National Congress Party (NCP) in Khartoum, of taking what he called ‘’hardline’’ positions in  resolving post-independence issues.  He said these elements have derailed progress toward a permanent and lasting agreement.

“So, I think both sides have to think very carefully,” he said, “about how do you have a relationship with a country you don’t necessarily like very much.  But you have to have that relationship for your own security and economic benefit.”

Ambassador Lyman’s predecessor, Gen. Scott Gration, was criticized by some U.S. based advocacy groups for not taking a tough stand on Sudan because of the war in Darfur.  Lyman said the Obama Administration has not changed its policy towards Sudan.

‘’The fact is that we don’t deal directly with President Bashir because of the indictment [by the International Criminal Court]. We have many sanctions on Sudan. They are still on the list of state sponsors of terrorism, so I think many in Khartoum would say to you, ‘no, [we are] not all handling them with kid gloves,’’’ he said.

Lyman thinks political dialogue can resolve the conflicts in Darfur, Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states and thus end the current humanitarian crises. He urged the SPLM-North rebels and Sudan to negotiate a peaceful resolution of their conflict.

‘’That proposition [of dialogue] has been on the table. In principle, I find people on both sides [agreeing] that needs to be done, but the political will to do it is not yet there,’’ he said.

The envoy stressed that tensions between the two Sudans could be eased if the borders along Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states were demilitarized. Khartoum accuses South Sudan of supporting rebels in those states.  Juba denies the accusations.

Lyman urged Khartoum to recognize that the conflicts in Sudan are internal problems, and he said the SPLM-North must talk about their own commitment to a unified Sudan, rather than advocating the overthrow of President Bashir.

He said Washington is concerned about Sudan’s human rights record and the recent crackdown on civil society groups in Khartoum. But he added that Washington will continue to work with the two governments to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict between them.

The 77-year-old envoy will remain in office until President Obama appoints a new special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan.

Listen to interview with Ambassador Princeton Lyman