Secretary of State Colin Powell met Sudanese rebel leader John Garang Wednesday as part of an ongoing U.S. effort to help get a settlement of that country's 20-year-old civil war. U.S. officials say they hope to see a peace accord between the Khartoum government and the rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) by the end of June.
The Bush administration has made the pursuit of peace in Sudan a foreign policy priority, and Secretary Powell's talks with Mr. Garang followed a similar meeting here last week with the Sudanese Foreign Minister Osman Ismail.
The Islamic government in Khartoum and the southern rebel movement have been holding peace talks in Kenya under the auspices of the East African regional group IGAD, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development.
No breakthroughs were reported in the latest round focusing on how to divide political power and the country's oil wealth.
But briefing reporters after Mr. Powell's meeting with the SPLM leader, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher insisted the remaining difficulties are not insurmountable.
"We think the progress has been good so far. We think the problems are soluble," he said. "We think that it is possible to bring about a peace for the people of Sudan, throughout Sudan. But it's going to take more effort. And we're certainly willing to continue to put the effort into it. And we think the parties are as well."
A senior official told reporters here the United States would like to see a final peace accord reached by the end of June, when a cease-fire in southern Sudan is due to expire, but said he would make no predictions.
The peace talks in Kenya build on a protocol signed last July providing for a six-year period of autonomy for the SPLM-controlled south to be followed by a referendum on the region's political future.
But the sides still differ on several key issues including the location of the national capital, the composition of the armed forces, and the status of several combat zones.
The Sudan conflict, Africa's longest-running civil war, erupted in 1983 and has killed an estimated two million people, mainly through war-related famine and disease.