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Obama to Attend High-Level Meeting on Sudan

U.S. President Barack Obama will attend a high-level meeting on Sudan Friday at the United Nations. Hosted by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and bringing together senior Western and African officials, the meeting is intended to focus international attention on Sudan in the lead-up to the January referendum which is likely to see Southern Sudan vote to secede from the North.

Many western diplomats at the U.N. have expressed concern over the last few weeks whether the referenda will be ready on time. One diplomat said the U.N. has indicated preparations are stalled.

Others say there are growing international fears that if the January vote does not go ahead on schedule there could be violence, especially if the south were to unilaterally declare its independence. But they also worry that even if the referendum is held on time and the outcome is not respected or seen to not be credible that could also push the country back into another bloody civil war.

U.S. officials say President Obama is participating in Friday's meeting to convey his vision for how to move forward towards a successful referendum.

Samantha Power is a senior advisor to President Obama. She told reporters this week during a telephone briefing that Mr. Obama's main message to the Sudan meeting will be the need to rapidly implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement - or CPA - which calls for the North-South vote and another one on the same day by the people of the Abyei region.

"So the number one message is that these referenda must go off on time; that they must be peaceful; and they must reflect the will of the people of South Sudan," she said.

Power says President Obama would also speak about the recent uptick in violence in the Darfur region of Sudan.

"We continue to see unacceptable conditions for the people living in camps and the fact that they - none of them feel safe enough to return to their homes," she added. "So he will, of course, speak to the need for enhanced security and dignity for the people of Darfur and the need for accountability, as well."

The meeting will also likely cover the need for access for aid workers and the importance of U.N. peacekeepers not having limitations on their freedom of movement.

There are currently more than 30,000 U.N. troops and police deployed in Darfur and Southern Sudan - the biggest concentration of blue helmets anywhere in the world.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that while the international community is ready to support the Sudanese as they implement their commitments under the CPA, and there will be benefits for them if they do, there could also be consequences if they do not follow through on their obligations.

"We've also been clear that if they fail to follow through, that there will be - as we have always said in the context of our policy - consequences," said Rice. "Those might take the form of unilateral and/or multilateral [ie, sanctions], and we have got a number that are potentially at our disposal. But our aim is to spur them forward in their own interest."

Representing the Sudanese sides at the meeting will be Vice President Ali Osman Taha from the government of Sudan and Salva Kiir, the President of South Sudan. The chairman of the African Union, African officials, Western diplomats and senior U.N. officials are expected to attend the session chaired by U.N. secretary-general.