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Experts Say Time and Truth Are Keys to Peace Talks

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, left, and South Sudan President Salva Kiir, right, shake hands on the completion of a signing ceremony after the two countries reached a deal on economic and security agreements in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Sept. 27, 2012.
Scholars David Smock and Daniel Serwer have been trying to talk people into peace as international mediators for much of their careers.

At a recent book launch in Washington, D.C for their new publication, called “Facilitating Dialogue: USIP's Work in Conflict Zones,” Smock and Serwer analyzed why peace talks in places such as Iraq, Kosovo, and Nepal were successful. One factor, they say, is simply time.

“It isn’t just a one-meeting effort. The most effective processes take a considerable amount of time, and in turn require the commitment of considerable resources,” said Smock, who is the Director of the Religion and Peacemaking Center at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

As far as South Sudan and Sudan go, Smock said that the countries stretched that time investment about as far as it could go. But, he observed that the United Nations, which threatened sanctions if the countries failed to reach an agreement by early August, did help move the process along. “There were timelines, there were deadlines. And while those deadlines weren’t met precisely, they were met in rough terms,” Smock said.

Daniel Serwer, who is Professor of Conflict Management at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is more cautious about the role of the international community.

He said that any kind of international dialogue ultimately aims to express the genuine desires of the people. When outside groups put pressure on the talks, Serwer said negotiators sometimes promise more than they can deliver.

“Frankly, people will say things to please us or to please the international community or to please donors that they don’t really mean,” Serwer said.

Serwer and Smock’s book also finds that mediators such as Thabo Mbeki, who was the African Union’s chief negotiator in the Sudanese talks in Abbis Ababa, Ethiopia are critical. Smock said that when Mbeki weighed in with constructive ideas, the talks started to move forward.

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