Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Kenya for a visit aimed at giving a final boost to Kenyan-sponsored negotiations to end the long civil war in Sudan. Mr. Powell will meet Wednesday with senior negotiators of the Sudanese parties.
U.S. officials believe the Sudan talks are nearing a successful conclusion after the Khartoum government and southern rebels reached a key accord on security arrangements last month.
In a talk with reporters enroute to Nairobi from the APEC summit in Bangkok, Mr. Powell said a final deal may not come during his Kenya visit, spanning two days.
But he said he will use his presence to try to boost the momentum of the talks and urge the parties not to miss the current opportunity to end Africa's longest-running civil war.
"I thought it would be useful, since I was passing through this way on the way to Madrid, that I would stop here and try to put some energy into the talks, and see if I can help them get closer to a solution," said Mr. Powell. "But really to impress upon them that after 30 years of the most horrible warfare, and with the loss of two million lives, now that we have come this far, let us finish it."
The latest round of the Sudan talks began last week in the Kenyan lakeside town of Naivasha. They are focussed on ways of sharing power and oil revenues between the Islamic government and the mainly Christian and animist rebel movement, the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army.
In a major breakthrough two years ago, they agreed on a six-year-period of autonomy for the rebel-controlled south, leading to a referendum on the region's political future.
Mr. Powell has been in frequent telephone contact in recent weeks with SPLA leader John Garang and chief government negotiator Vice President Ali Uthman Taha. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner preceded the Secretary to Kenya to monitor the talks.
In his airborne news conference, Mr. Powell said President George Bush has followed the Sudan peace process closely since the first days of his administration, and he said if there is a final deal, Mr. Bush "would want to recognize the achievement in an appropriate manner."
Mr. Powell would not elaborate. But he said an agreement would prompt early movement toward a renewal of full diplomatic relations and a review of various U.S. sanctions against Sudan, including the possible removal of Sudan from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The Secretary said Sudanese cooperation with United States on counter-terrorism has intensified in recent years though he said he would like to see the authorities in Khartoum bar "any presence whatsoever" by the Palestinian radical groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Mr. Powell said his talks late Tuesday with Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, a follow-up to Mr. Kibaki's Washington visit earlier this month, would include the issue of U.S. travel warnings for Kenya, which along with similar alerts from other countries have reduced Kenyan tourism.
The latest State Department advisory, issued late last month, urged Americans to defer non-essential travel to Kenya because of the threat of terrorist attacks.
Mr. Powell said his bias is always toward removing such warnings, but said he is obligated to provide alerts based on an objective assessment of the security situation in a given country, based on information from U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies.