The Obama administration's chief Africa diplomat said Wednesday he believes the independence referendum in southern Sudan, beginning Sunday, will be peaceful and successful. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson is promising intensive U.S. support for a new southern Sudanese state if voters there choose to secede.
The Obama administration is increasingly optimistic about a peaceful independence vote, encouraged by, among other things, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's conciliatory visit to the southern capital, Juba, on Tuesday.
In a talk with reporters, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said U.S. apprehension about the process has given way to an expectation that the crucial vote, capping a peace process that began with the 2005 north-south Comprehensive Peace Accord, will be a success.
"We believe that this event, beginning on January 9th, will in fact go off successfully, that the organization and the diplomatic efforts that have been put into this will lead to a successful referendum," Carson said. "We think that it will reflect the will of the people, that it will occur on time, peacefully and in a well-organized manner."
The United States has shunned direct contacts with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir because of his international indictment on war crimes charges in Darfur.
But Carson said U.S. officials are "extraordinarily pleased" by Mr. al-Bashir's conciliatory visit to Juba Tuesday, during which he stressed again publicly that he will accept the outcome of the vote, and seek a peaceful and beneficial relationship with the people of the south, regardless of how they vote.
Southerners are widely expected to vote to set up their own state. In anticipation of that, Carson said the United States has in recent months quadrupled its diplomatic presence in Juba, and is prepared to do all it can to help the prospective new state succeed.
"These are substantial diplomatic investments," Carson added. "Our desire is to see the referendum move forward. And we hope that if the people of southern Sudan choose peace to vote for peace, that we will also as a country help that new nation to succeed, get on its feet and to move forward successfully, economically and politically."
Senior officials here said the United States will have a high-profile presence in Sudan for the seven-day voting period beginning Sunday.
U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry and Sudan diplomatic troubleshooter Princeton Lyman are already there. They are to be joined by U.S. Sudan envoy Scott Gration, who leaves Washington late Thursday with a team of officials including the newly-named senior U.S. adviser for Darfur, Dane Smith.