16 January 2004

Sudan Settlement Possible in 'Days', Says State Department's Top Africa Diplomat

Washington, DC — Although the goal of a December 31 peace agreement in Sudan has been missed, the government of Sudan and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement and Army (SPLM/A) have "proved" their seriousness by reaching agreement on wealth-sharing, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Charles Snyder, told reporters Thursday.

He said "there's a real chance" negotiations can succeed "in the next several days." The most difficult remaining issue is the status of Abyei in West Kordofan, the Nuba Mountain region in Southern Kordofan and the Angasana of Blue Nile province, he said. But there have been "some serious advances."

The "level of attention and detail" that resulted in agreement on complex issues like wealth-sharing makes negotiations "take a little longer" than first thought, but at this point both sides "have to decide in the endgame what they're going to trade for what," he said.

"Am I optimistic about tomorrow? Not necessarily about tomorrow. Am I optimistic about the next 30 days? Absolutely. I think this agreement is at that point where it is inevitable."

On other issues, Snyder called Africa "an important front" in the global war on terrorism, "but it's not a crucial front." He said: "The old camel caravan route coming down from Libya all the way through Mauritania is an area of interest and an area of trouble which extremists can use, and we're paying attention to [it] in this global war."

Asked whether the recent travel warning issued on Nigeria reflected U.S. government concern about a link to global terrorism in that country or the domestic situation, he replied: "It's a little bit of both." He said a combination of factors, including "a terrorist dimension that has to do with a global problem" led American officials "to warn Americans that they need to be careful when they go to Nigeria."

Snyder denied that apparent slowness by the administration in pushing for an extension of the African Growth and Opportunities Act (Agoa) is a reprisal for Africa's stance at Cancun last September, when world trade discussions broke down over disagreements between Washington, other Western governments and developing nations.

"What happened at Cancun is unfortunate in many ways," he said, "but AGOA legislation is not affected by that, trust me." Trade bills are always tough to negotiate, especially in an election year, so the State Department traditionally waits "until the 11th hour to spot what we like best," he said. Without elaborating, Snyder seemed to suggest that the Bush Administration feels that there is still some tinkering needed with the Agoa bills that have been introduced in House and Senate. "I'm hoping we will get legislation that we will openly support."

Snyder also said the Bush administration wants South African President Thabo Mbeki to put more pressure on Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. "We've seen South Africa step up to the plate in Burundi," he said, where a peace agreement is close to resolution "in large part due to South Africa's energetic diplomacy." The U.S. government would like to see similar movement on the Zimbabwe issue, he said. "We're still hoping that President Mbeki will step up. With a tragedy unfolding like this, time is of the essence and we're hoping that he takes a reenergized look."

Speaking about President Bush's pledge of $15 billion over five years to fight HIV/Aids in Africa and the Caribbean, Snyder acknowledged that "$15 billion divided by 5 should be $3 billion a year" and that the $2.4 billion Congress approved for fiscal year 2004 "didn't quite get there." But, he said that "we've engaged that in a serious way" with "serious money -- more than anybody else is doing in this regard."


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