Secretary of State Colin Powell joined Kenyan-sponsored Sudan peace talks and secured a pledge by the former warring parties there to finish a comprehensive peace accord by the end of the year.
Mr. Powell's decision to go to Kenya, and make the bumpy four-hour round trip by car from Nairobi to the conference site at Naivasha, won him plaudits from the Sudanese parties and the Kenyan sponsors of the peace talks.
He came away from the lakeside town in Kenya's Rift Valley with a commitment from the sides to complete an accord to end Sudan's 20-year-old civil conflict by the end of the year, an achievement he said would be recognized by a ceremony at the White House.
The secretary met separately in Naivasha with the Sudanese delegation chiefs, Vice President Ali Othman Taha of the Khartoum government and Sudan Peoples Liberation Army chief John Garang, and then held a joint session with the principals and Kenyan Foreign Minister Kalonzo Musyoka.
At the press appearance that followed, Mr. Powell said while some differences remain, he is confident that the peace accord, sought for nearly a decade, can be finished in a matter of weeks.
"Both parties have agreed to remain in negotiations and conclude a comprehensive settlement no later than the end of December," he said. "And both gentlemen have committed themselves to that goal of having a comprehensive settlement by the end of December. Once the parties have signed the final comprehensive agreement for peace, President Bush looks forward, and has invited them to come to the White House so that he can recognize their achievement and also endorse the agreement."
Mr. Powell said a lot of work would come after a deal is finished, and that President Bush would commit his administration to work as hard for implementation as it did for the agreement itself.
A White House event for a Sudanese peace accord would be reminiscent of the one that sealed an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty more than two decades ago.
Kenyan Foreign Minister Musyoka was quick to point out the parallel, saying that Naivasha had become "our Camp David" and that Sudan's peace process is now "irreversible."
The Sudan conflict, which erupted in 1983 and killed an estimated two million people in combat and war-related famine, pitted the Islamic government in Khartoum against the mainly Christian and animist rebel movement.
The sides agreed last year on a six-year period of autonomy for the south, to be followed by a referendum on the region's political future.
In a talk with reporters travelling with him, Mr. Powell said the parties have made considerable progress on arrangements for sharing political power and the country's oil revenues during the six-year interim period.
Still outstanding, he said, is the issue of who will control three contested zones - the southern Blue Nile, the Nuba mountains and the area around Abyei - of which the latter is the most problematic.
The secretary repeatedly made clear, on his current mission, that there are incentives for the Sudanese to finish the deal.
He says a comprehensive settlement, coupled with improved anti-terrorism cooperation by Sudan, would lead to an upgrade of diplomatic relations and the possible end to crippling U.S. economic sanctions against Sudan, including those stemming from its listing by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism.