The United States welcomed the signing late Wednesday of protocols clearing the way to a final settlement of Sudan's 20 year north-south civil war. The Bush administration reiterated its readiness for fully normal relations with Sudan, provided the separate conflict in the western Darfur region is also settled.
The conflict in Darfur, which has driven an estimated one million people from their homes since last year, has somewhat overshadowed the final stages of the Kenyan-sponsored negotiations to end Sudan's north-south civil war which began in 1983.
In welcoming the signing of the three protocols at ceremonies in Naivasha, Kenya, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States remains willing to celebrate a final north-south peace deal with a White House ceremony and to move to full political relations with Sudan.
However, he made clear that this would require peace in Darfur, where Arab militiamen backed by the Khartoum government are being accused of ethnic-cleansing tactics in trying to put down a local black African revolt.
"We have made clear that we will begin a process of normalizing our bilateral relationship, but in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement and resolution of the situation in Darfur, including ending the violence being perpetrated by the militias, protecting civilians, facilitating unrestricted humanitarian access and cooperation in the deployment of international monitors and creation of conditions for the same return of displaced people," Mr. Boucher said. "So as we approach that point of having comprehensive peace, these issues involving Darfur are still very much prominent on our agenda."
Secretary of State Colin Powell first raised the idea of a White House event on a Sudan peace accord when he visited the north-south talks in Naivasha in October.
Participants told him they intended to finish a peace accord by the end of 2003. However, recurring snags delayed a conclusion and even with Wednesday's signing of the protocols, some security provisions of the north-south peace accord remain to be settled.
U.S. diplomats including Mr. Powell have been closely involved in the Naivasha talks. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Charles Snyder attended Wednesday's ceremony and Mr. Powell spoke by telephone before the signing with John Garang, the head and chief negotiator of the southern rebel movement the SPLA.
The United States has only limited diplomatic relations with Sudan and maintains economic sanctions because of its continued listing by the State Department as a state sponsor of terrorism. However, U.S. officials have credited Sudan with increased anti-terrorism cooperation since 2001.