NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER
UNITED NATIONS PLAZA,
NEW YORK, NEW YORK
SEPTEMBER 25, 2014
FOREIGN PRESS CENTER WITH AMBASSADOR DONALD BOOTH, SPECIAL ENVOY TO SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN
TOPIC: U.S. PRIORITIES IN SUDAN AND SOUTH SUDAN
MS. STAVROPOULOS: Good afternoon and welcome. My name is Daphne Stavropoulos. We are very pleased today to have Ambassador Donald Booth, the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, with us. He’s going to make opening remarks that are going to be on the record. After he makes his remarks, we’ll open the floor to questions. We may have journalists at our foreign press center in Washington, D.C., and we certainly have some viewing live – via livestream.
So with that, we want to thank you again for coming today, and I’ll turn it over to you, Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Okay, well, good afternoon. I’ve just come from the Secretary-General’s special event on South Sudan over at the UN, which focused on the twin issues of the ongoing crisis in the country, both the political crisis – the conflict – and the humanitarian crisis. And I think there was a general agreement among the participants that the humanitarian crisis, while donors are stepping forward and providing assistance, that the crisis itself is – stems from the ongoing conflict. And the conflict is manmade; therefore this humanitarian crisis is manmade, and it needs to be addressed.
I think one of the panelists put it very well is we need to focus on protecting the people and achieving peace in the country, that the two are inextricably linked. But the humanitarian situation in South Sudan is indeed dire. There are about 3.9 million people in the country that need food assistance. There are close to 1.7 million people that have been displaced by the conflict; 500,000 of them are living in neighboring countries as refugees. Of the ones that are in the country, almost 100,000 are actually in various UN camps, the UNMISS bases that have been turned into protection-of-civilian sites. These people have been there for the most part since the conflict began in December.
The conflict had its origins in political competition within the ruling party, but then ended up splitting the country along ethnic lines, and the conflict has been addressed by a mediation process by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, which is the East African, Horn of Africa regional organization. They were given that mandate by the African Union back in December and they have been leading a mediation process ever since. That process has achieved a cessation of hostilities agreement by the parties. That was accomplished in January, but it was not respected; the fighting continued. In May, they managed to bring together President Kiir and the opposition leader Riek Machar in Addis Ababa, and we got a commitment from both of them to negotiate a transitional government that would bring about an end to the hostilities and usher in the reforms that would be needed, including the writing of a new permanent constitution.
Again, the negotiations since May have not been conclusive. The talks resumed again in Ethiopia formally this past Monday and are continuing now in the city of Bahir Dar in Ethiopia under the mediation of IGAD supported by many of the international partners, supported definitely by the African Union, by the Troika of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway; supported by the European Union and by China as well.
So – and many other donors that are contributing to the efforts supporting the mediation effort and supporting one of the elements that came out of the cessation of hostilities agreement which was the establishment of a monitoring and verification mechanism. This is a civilian mechanism, an unarmed mechanism, that was designed to go in and investigate violations of the cessation of hostilities report on who had done what. And it has been established now in seven different sites in South Sudan and has been providing reporting, though it has been hampered by the fact that it is operating in a non-permissive environment; i.e., an environment where fighting continues.
And so one of the missions that the Security Council gave to UNMISS when it changed the mandate of UNMISS back in April was to give the primary mandate of the mission to be protection of civilians, and included in that was a protection of the monitors mandate.
So the region has given a 45-day deadline for negotiations. That deadline is approaching. The negotiations, as I said, are currently underway, and they have become multi-stakeholder negotiations, where it’s not just the two armed groups that are at the table but IGAD has brought in as well representatives of other members of the party, of the SPLN – the ruling party – who had been detained after the conflict broke out and who have chosen not to take sides with either the government or the opposition, with other political parties, with the civil society representation, and also representation of the religious community – the idea being to bring more voices from South Sudan into the peace process so that any eventual peace process arrangement for a transitional government would have a broader basis and a broader buy-in. What IGAD is striving for, we’re all striving for, is peace but also a sustainable peace and putting South Sudan on a trajectory where it can come up with a political arrangement that the different ethnic groups can live together peacefully and harmoniously.
The independence of South Sudan has been described by some as the creation of two multiethnic countries, and that’s quite true. Both Sudan and South Sudan are multiethnic countries, and both are grappling with the issues of how to govern multiethnic countries.
So let me stop there with those remarks on South Sudan and the peace process, and we can turn to any questions you have.
MS. STAVROPOULOS: Please make sure to state your name and your media affiliation.
QUESTION: Ambassador, hi, thanks for doing this. I’m Kevin Kelley. I write for The Nation in Kenya and for the East African. I spoke with you briefly at the Africa summit in Washington in August and I asked you then whether you thought that IGAD was in danger of losing some credibility because it keeps threatening to impose sanctions, and it doesn’t. And now we have another deadline that – we’ll see what happens. But the Enough Project put out a report today saying that IGAD’s losing credibility by not imposing sanctions. Has the United States played a role in discussing this with IGAD, saying that you need to do what you say you’re going to do? The U.S. imposed sanctions this week on two military – two more military leaders.
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: We have discussed the issue of sanctions with IGAD. Back in May when Secretary Kerry traveled to the region and met with a number of IGAD foreign ministers, they were talking about punitive measures to be taken if the parties did not negotiate seriously, and they, indeed, have let that threat go unfulfilled. But the – they remain focused on trying to use both the threat and actual measures to try to leverage the negotiations forward.
There’s always a concern that if you just go ahead and impose a sanction that you can foreclose options. And this is one of the reasons that the U.S. and the European Union have been very careful to be – move in a deliberate fashion in terms of sanctioning people and sending the message that the pressures will increase. And I think that’s what IGAD is trying to figure out, is what is credible that they can do as a region,– that they can agree on and they can work together on, because the effectiveness will require them to work together. And so I think they’re looking for ways to bring pressure to bear on the parties, and we continue to engage with them on how best to do that.
QUESTION: I can do a follow-up if nobody else has – I forget the source of this, but it was one of the think tanks suggested in a report recently that maybe one reason why IGAD’s reluctant to impose sanctions is because Kenya, for example, serves a conduit for weapons going to South Sudan, and some of these leaders on both sides of the battling are keeping funding money in surrounding countries. Do you think that there are disincentives of that kind to move forward with sanctions?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Well, I think the – as I say, I think the countries of the region are looking at how best to leverage the negotiations and to do so in a way that is credible. And so I think one of the things that the region has talked about itself is an arms embargo. I think there’s a recognition that they would have to be the ones that would implement that, and I think they’ve been looking seriously at how they might do something like that. So, again, what they’re trying to do is they’re trying to use both the posturing and at the same time working out how they might be able to actually implement something in order to maximize the pressure and influence the negotiations.
QUESTION: Just one more, if I could just follow – following up on that. Would the United States not move through the Security Council to seek an arms embargo on all parties in South Sudan until IGAD acts? Is that the U.S.’s position?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: The Security Council has to reach agreement on any sanctions. We’re one vote in it, and we have to make sure that those who could block it with one vote don’t do so, which was going to require a level of African support. And when we feel we have that level of African support, I think the Security Council action is quite possible.
QUESTION: Thanks for being here with us, Mr. Ambassador. On the issue of civilian casualties and thousands of refugees, and apart from the African efforts and the United Nations and the Security Council, what has been the role on the ground of the United States on these issues?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Well, the United States, working as part of the Troika, has been supportive of the IGAD mediation process. We have been consulting with the mediators, giving them support – political support where needed, and trying to help build the pressure on the parties to negotiate seriously. It’s one of the reasons the U.S. issued the executive order for targeted individual sanctions back in April. We have followed through with two rounds of designations under those sanctions, and we’re prepared to continue to utilize that executive order, if need be.
We have been the major funder of the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism and helped in the establishment of that through assistance that we provided, technical expertise, people who had worked previous monitoring missions. We have also been – we were very supportive of the effort to bring – to strengthen the UN mission in South Sudan, both to change its mandate to one of protection of civilians but also to bring in troops from the region so that there would be a credible regional force there that could help protect not only civilians, but also the monitors.
So we continue to work on a political level with the parties in South Sudan. We engage with all of the actors. We’ve helped to – the civil society groups to organize, to have a voice in these negotiations. We did so at the request of IGAD. So we basically are – as IGAD likes to say, we’re sort of a force multiplier for them. We are supportive of their effort. We help to move that – the process forward as best we can.
Secretary Kerry, as I mentioned, traveled to the region in early May, and I think his visit to Juba as well as to Addis and his engagement with President Kiir and with opposition leader Riek Machar helped to facilitate them agreeing to come together in Addis, where IGAD, under the leadership of Prime Minister Hailemariam of Ethiopia, managed to wring this commitment from the two sides to move forward toward a transitional government.
So that’s the kind of engagement that we’ve had. At the same time, we’re of course addressing the humanitarian situation on the ground. We’ve contributed $636 million so far since this crisis began for the humanitarian situation alone, and have been a major leader in helping – working with the UN to organize that relief effort.
QUESTION: What has been the effect of the crisis in South Sudan to Sudan, (inaudible) issue of Darfur and other issues of crisis in Sudan?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Well, I think probably the most immediate has been the fact that due to the fighting, oil production has declined, and so therefore, transit revenues have declined. The Sudanese have expressed great concern at the presence of some elements of the JEM and other opposition movements from Sudan who have gone to South Sudan to fight on the government side down there. The Government of South Sudan has expressed concerns that the Government of Sudan is supporting opposition forces.
But I would say that Sudan has generally engaged as a member of IGAD. They have contributed a member of the mediation team. They have contributed members to the Monitoring and Verification Mechanism, and generally have gone along with the direction that IGAD as an organization has wanted to take in trying to bring about an end to the conflict.
QUESTION: I’m Vasco De Jesus, VascoPress, Brazil. And given all these variables, do you have a timeframe that you expect these parties will get together in the road of peace? It’s a two-year, one-year – how do you foresee?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Well, the – as I say, IGAD – I mean, they are together. They’ve been together since January with a few breaks in between under this IGAD mediation. They’re under a 45-day deadline now. I think, obviously, if there’s progress being made, if there’s a seriousness of negotiation, no one is going to stop them from talking in the middle of a constructive process. But the process of some sort of reconciliation, accountability, some of the critical reform areas that will need to be addressed by a transitional government – again, IGAD has talked about a 30-month transition period. But that’s after you get a peace agreement and after you get agreement on what will constitute a transitional government.
The – everybody has been pushing the process as quickly as possible. The parties have resisted coming to grips with a lot of the serious issues until recently, when there were some very constructive discussions on specific issues such as security sector reform, accountability and reconciliation, reform of the public finances. And so there is – once they get down to discussing the – kind of the more substantive issues, they – the talks tend to be a bit more productive. It’s when they’re talking about who should be in charge that it’s a bit less productive.
Though IGAD – in an attempt to push the process forward, the last IGAD summit basically laid out an outline and a protocol for a transitional government that would have President Salva Kiir, as the duly elected president of the country, continue as president through the transition, but that there would be a prime minister that would be nominated by the opposition,would have to be agreed to by the president, but the powers of that prime minister are a subject of negotiation. And so that’s, again, a task ahead of the negotiators here.
QUESTION: On Sudan, the issue about Darfur has been on for more than 10 years. So what do you think should be the solution to this, because since the UN is (inaudible) from resolving the issue in Sudan?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Well, there have been many peace agreements for Darfur, the most recent one having been the Doha Document for Peace in Darfur, which really only one major group signed on to. Other armed groups, the Darfuri groups, refused to sign on to it. As they’ve explained it to me, they don’t believe it’s a basis for addressing the underlying issues of the conflict in Darfur, and therefore they didn’t want to be part of it. They saw it as more an effort at co-opting them. That’s their view.
The bottom line is that there hadn’t been really a serious discussion between the government and the Darfuri armed opposition. This is something that President Mbeki, in his role as chair of the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel, has taken up recently, and as I understand will be having actually a meeting with Darfuri groups, and is working with the government in Khartoum to try to find a way to get a process for negotiating a cessation of hostilities in Darfur and a humanitarian access agreement as part of something in parallel that he’s doing with the Two Areas of Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile. And both of those cessation of hostilities agreement negotiations would tie – could become permanent peace agreements but via addressing the political issues which are common to both areas of conflict via this national dialogue that President Bashir has put on the table in the speech he made in January. And so I think there is – if President Mbeki is allowed to continue and have a parallel negotiation process for Darfur with what he’s doing in the Two Areas, and if there is a genuine national dialogue to link those two cessation of hostilities negotiations to, I think there is a possibility of them evolving into a permanent ceasefire and a peace agreement.
But this is still early, very early. And the fighting, unfortunately, continues very, very vicious – fighting that basically affects civilians, aerial bombardment and the new version of the Janjaweed, the Rapid Support Forces which operate in Darfur as well as the two areas.
In Darfur I think there were 500,000 people displaced last year –
QUESTION: This year?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: — by fighting. And in the two areas this year another 100,000 displaced. So the impact really is on civilians.
MS. STAVROPOULOS: We have time for just one or two more questions.
QUESTION: Just one follow-up on South Sudan. Do you personally or the United States believe that the two parties are equally culpable for the violations of the ceasefire, or do you think that the rebels or the governments are primarily to blame for the breakdown?
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Both sides have committed violations of the ceasefire. The monitoring and verification mechanism has documented that. The important thing is that you can get into this tit-for-tat that has to stop. They’ve recommitted in May twice. The May 9th agreement between Riek Machar and President Kiir also recommitted them. And they were recommitted again in this last IGAD summit to implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement. They just need to get on with doing it.
And one of the problems is the forces in many areas are in very close proximity to each other, so it doesn’t take much to start a firefight. I would say since May a lot of the violations, if you will, have been more sort of indirect fire, but there have been several that have been blatant attacks. We have condemned those, such as the attack recently in the areas around Renk in Upper Nile and also the attack against Nasir by opposition forces.
MS. STAVROPOULOS: If there are no more questions, I want to thank Ambassador Booth very much for participating in today’s discussion. We really appreciate you coming. And for all of you, we will be sending the transcript to you later today and it’ll be posted on the fpc.state.gov website. And we encourage everyone here to follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Thank you very much.
AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Thank you.