The new U.S. consulate in Juba, Sudan, is an important milestone on the way to peace for that country, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick said November 11 at a press conference following its opening. The consulate will be the headquarters for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) mission.
Sudanese First Vice President Salva Kiir, joining Zoellick at the press conference, said he considered the opening "a very big step forward" in "assuring the cooperation and support of the USA to the peace process in Sudan and to the road map of Southern Sudan in particular."
He said the consulate will make keeping in contact "on a daily basis" with U.S. officials much easier, and enhance the ability to keep them informed about how the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) is progressing. Juba is the seat of the recently appointed government of Southern Sudan.
Zoellick said that much economic activity at the consulate will be focused on southern regions of Sudan in the future, although the focus now is on building roads.
Kiir said his discussions with Zoellick centered on finding a solution to the Darfur crisis, as well as the implementation of the CPA, which he described as "taking a low profile in the international community because they [the international community] feel that the pressing issue today is the issue of Darfur, and so attention is much more drawn to Darfur."
Zoellick agreed that there has been "a lot of focus on Darfur, understandably," but said it would be "a huge mistake" if the involved parties let their attention turn from the critical matter of "working with the government of Southern Sudan and then the government of national unity in the peace process."
The U.S. official said there already have been some salutary effects from the prospect of peace in the region, including the opening of some markets and a decline in food prices, "so people start to see the benefits of peace."
"We're trying to work on health care systems, trying to help build schools and also work with the teachers on the training system, trying to help with the telecommunication system. There's a lot to be done, but we now have to harvest the hard work of the peace negotiations," Zoellick said.
In response to questions from reporters on sanctions against Sudan, he said: "Fundamentally, we have to demonstrate changes in the conditions that led to the sanctions being applied. It's one reason why I stressed when I was in Khartoum that in addition to signing the CPA, we all have to implement the CPA."
He stressed that the sanctions were applied for three different reasons: to mitigate the North-South struggle, to combat terrorism and to alleviate suffering in Darfur. He added that he had made clear to all parties that "we have to resolve each of those problems to remove the sanctions. And we have to resolve them, not only with words on paper but actions, in fact.
"The reason that I've come here four times is I'm trying to push the actions so that we can sort of repair the relations and help a unified Sudan in peace to move forward as part of the international community," he said.
He added that he had suggested to President Omar Hassan Bashir and Vice President Ali Osman Taha a mutual interest in supporting the withdrawal of the government forces from Juba and helping the return of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) to the South, to be achieved partly through fixing the railroad system.
"So one way to start would be to allow parts for the railroad system," he said. "But to do so, we need to know that the purpose will be related to pulling out the troops and bringing back the IDPs and monitoring that."
He said if the partners in the government of national unity "can develop a common approach," the United States can take a look at that and possibly offer some exceptions if it serves the common purposes of peace. "But, fundamentally, we have to demonstrate changes in the conditions that led to the sanctions being applied.
"On the terrorism sanctions, there was some adjustment in the categorization of Sudan as to whether they were cooperating on terrorism, and that reflects the fact that we appreciate that we have gotten some good cooperation from Sudan in dealing with counterterrorism issues," Zoellick said.
While in Sudan, Zoellick also visited Khartoum and Darfur.