U.S. President Barack Obama met on Tuesday with actor and activist George Clooney to discuss the situation in Sudan. After his latest visit to Sudan, Clooney has been speaking about the importance of referenda in January in southern Sudan and challenges facing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement that is aimed at ending decades of conflict between the north and south in Sudan.
The Oval Office meeting between the president and one of the world's most visible activist on Sudan came at a difficult time for U.S.-mediated talks between north and south Sudan over the disputed oil-rich Abyei region and efforts to salvage the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
The talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, or SPLM, and the Khartoum government have run into difficulty. An SPLM spokesman tells VOA that the talks are in danger of breaking down over the issue of Abyei.
Since his return from a visit to southern Sudan, Clooney has warned of the dangers of allowing negotiations to collapse, saying that it could lead to renewed civil war and possibly genocide, as was seen in Sudan's western Darfur province.
Clooney spoke with reporters at the White House about the importance of keeping the talks going.
"At this moment, there is an opportunity here to negotiate this, to negotiate a peace treaty. It's complicated and it's difficult and it means negotiating with people you don't necessarily like, you don't necessary get along with. This administration [the Obama administration] seems committed to it, and we have to focus on that right now rather than focusing on the idea of the aftermath," he said.
Several weeks ago, President Obama told a high-level meeting on Sudan during the United Nations General Assembly session, that the fate of millions of people lies in the balance in Sudan, and that only the parties in Sudan can ensure peace.
Sudan expert and human rights activist John Prendergast, described President Obama as very focused on the Sudan situation. Prendergast says Mr. Obama and Clooney urged the continuation of "robust diplomacy."
"This president is very focused, very knowledgeable about the details, very in control of policy. This is a breath of fresh air, and it gives a chance to diplomacy, gives a chance to peace making that did not exist three months ago," he said.
Saying that the people of Sudan face tremendous danger, Clooney said the Obama administration and the international community must work to ensure that negotiations continue.
"Talks break down. They're going to continue to break down. They're going to come back; they're going to continue to break down and come back. Our hope is that no one stops negotiating all the way through. That's what we want," Clooney said.
Clooney and Prendergast also went to Capitol Hill to meet with the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar - one of several lawmakers who shares intense concern about the situation in Sudan.
Lugar said he is aware that the Obama administration is pursuing a multifaceted diplomatic effort on Sudan.
"The questions before us now are technical ones, of the referendum scheduled for January 9, and preparation for that. But likewise for various concessions that might be made by the U.S., by the rest of the world, regarding the lifting of sanctions or even giving assistance to the north, in the event that the north and the south are separated by the will of the people in the referendum. But equally, our thoughts have to be with the people in the south and the ability to develop the governmental institutions so that there can be governance without warfare among those persons too," Lugar said.
Lugar said the international community should take very seriously what is occurring in Sudan, and be constructive and assertive, adding that there might be great problems after January 9 if the political process does not succeed.