By Farah Stockman
Massachusetts Senator John Kerry hopes to travel to Sudan before the high-stakes referendum on independence slated for January 9, according to actor and Sudan activist George Clooney, who had an hour-long conversation with Kerry this week.
"Senator Kerry has been very much involved and is very proud of how much he has been involved," Clooney told reporters Tuesday night at the Council on Foreign Relations. "He wants to go before the referendum and takes as many senators as he can."
Kerry's spokesman Frederick Jones could not confirm an upcoming trip, but said: "Of course Senator Kerry is very concerned about the situation on the ground and he'd like to do whatever he can to make sure the referendum is conducted fairly and peacefully,"
Clooney said Congressional support is key to ensuring that Sudan -- a country that has suffered from decades of war between the mostly Muslim and Arab north and the mostly African and non-Muslim south -- does not fall back into civil war. He said Congress was instrumental in getting an historic peace agreement in 2005, and holds the key now to making sure that Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir does not resume a war with the south if southerners vote to become an independent state.
Clooney, who just returned from a trip to Sudan with John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, is in Washington this week to lobby for greater involvement. On Tuesday, the pair met President Obama at the White House, several members of Congress and spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Prendergast, who has previously been critical of the Obama administration's level of engagement on Sudan, said Obama impressed him with his detailed understanding of the conflict. He said he supports the administration's bid to offer incentives to Bashir to convince him that a resumption of war is not in his interest.
"Bashir doesn't want to be the guy that lost the south and got nothing out of it," Prendergast said.
The pair said that Obama talked to them about the punishments that he would be willing to use if Sudan chooses the path of war, but that the president said those should not be spoken about in public.