Secretary of State Colin Powell has appealed to the parties in the Sudanese conflict to meet their commitment to finish a peace accord by the end of the year. In a Los Angeles Times commentary, Mr. Powell said a final deal in Sudan would send a "powerful message" worldwide that even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved through negotiation.
The secretary of state went to the negotiating site in Kenya last week to secure the pledge from the parties to complete their work by the end of December.
In the newspaper commentary, he held out incentives for a final accord, saying that once an agreement is signed, the Bush administration will begin normalizing relations with the Sudanese government and organizing multi-lateral aid for Sudan to, in his words, "get peace off to a good start."
Mr. Powell said the chief delegates to the talks, Sudanese Vice President Ali Uthman Taha and Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement chief John Garang told him they were close to agreement on the remaining issues, including power and wealth-sharing, and the status of three contested regions.
In urging them to fulfill their pledge to wrap-up the negotiations, Mr. Powell said "time is of the essence for the war-weary people of Sudan," and that the current opportunity for peace must not be lost.
There were similar comments from Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner, who has been a key participant in the Sudanese peace process and is stepping down from his post this week.
In a farewell news conference, Mr. Kansteiner said the remaining issues are somewhat less difficult than those already surmounted, including the security agreement reached last month under which the armed forces of the Khartoum government and the southern rebels would be integrated and reduced in size.
He said the parties need to make a "final push" for a deal in the Kenyan-brokered talks in December after the current recess for the Muslim Ramadan holiday period:
"Do not let the momentum die," he said. "You have got good momentum. You have got the potential to reach the finish line. Stay the course, and get it done."
President Bush has issued an invitation to the Sudanese parties to a White House event that would celebrate and endorse a peace agreement.
The Sudanese civil war, pitting the Muslim government in Khartoum against the mainly Christian and animist rebels seeking autonomy for the south, has been underway since 1983 and has led to an estimated two million deaths in fighting and war related famine.
The parties reached a framework agreement in Kenya last year providing for six years of autonomy for the southern region, followed by a referendum on its political future.