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US Senate Considers America's First-Ever Ambassador to South Sudan

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Affairs, Susan Page (file photo)

The U.S. Senate has taken an important step to solidify America’s relationship with the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a confirmation hearing Wednesday for the first-ever nominee to be U.S. ambassador to South Sudan, which declared its independence from Sudan this past July.

South Sudan is a nation of great promise and great challenges, according to Democratic Party Senator Chris Coons of Delaware.

“Fierce fighting in the [Sudanese] regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile has resulted in death, displacement, and a lack of access for humanitarian workers," said Coons. "South-South violence is also significant. Poverty is endemic. Health, education and infrastructure are all seriously inadequate. And despite these challenges, South Sudan is a place of hope for millions of residents who have waited decades for their freedom.”

President Barack Obama’s nominee to be the first U.S. ambassador to South Sudan is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Susan Page, who is no stranger to the new country. During South Sudan's long push for independence, Page served as a legal advisor to the Sudanese mediation process and helped draft provisions of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended Sudan's north-south civil war.

She told the committee of America’s priorities for the new nation.

“Our main interests in South Sudan are stability, strengthening democracy, economic viability, and internal and regional peace and security," said Page. "Our focus will remain on promoting a peaceful relationship between the Republic of South Sudan and the Republic of Sudan. The United States will need to assist the South in navigating these challenges - maximizing civilian protection, individual human rights, and fundamental freedoms.”

Page added that South Sudan will need continued U.S. assistance to help transform the country’s former freedom fighters, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, into a professional force under civilian control.

The Obama administration has requested just over $500 million in aid for South Sudan for the coming year, much of which will be devoted to security and governance initiatives, as well as education and health care.

Page said South Sudan has enormous and pressing economic and developmental challenges - as well as a valuable resource.

“South Sudan will receive an estimated $4 to 5 billion in oil revenues annually, and will have the necessary resources to invest in strong institutions run by capable individuals," she said. "This is a unique opportunity to get it right, by managing its resources efficiently, creating fiscal transparency, ending corruption, and avoiding the pitfalls that beset so many resource-rich nations.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Susan Page, testifying at her Senate confirmation hearing as America’s first ambassador to South Sudan. Senators of both parties expressed strong support for her nomination. A full vote by the U.S. Senate on her nomination has yet to be scheduled, but is anticipated in the coming weeks.