Washington, DC — A background briefing via teleconference conducted by senior officials of the U.S. State Department, with Philip J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Public Affairs of the State Department.
OPERATOR: Good afternoon and thank you, all parties, for standing by. All lines will be on a listen-only until the question-and-answer session. At that time, you may press *1 if you would like to ask a question. Today's conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.
I would now like to turn the conference over to Mr. P.J. Crowley. Thank you. You may begin.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Sunday. We've had some intensive activity in Sudan in the last 48 hours following up on work that's been done over several months, but focused in particular on the President's meeting with the Sudanese leaders on the margins of the UN in September. But today, or the last day or two, Senator Kerry has been in the region and has been reinforcing a message to the parties on behalf of the President. So we want to go over that fairly quickly, bring you up to date on where we are with respect to the referendum on South Sudan and working with the parties as they work through issues connected with Abyei.
Various people are on the phone with me. [Senior Administration Officials named.]
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks, P.J., and thanks, everybody, for joining us on this Sunday afternoon. The President laid out (inaudible) UN in September, as P.J. pointed out, two clear paths for the Sudanese. One path obviously has them regaining their appropriate place in the international community, and the other path has them more isolated as a result of their unwillingness to live up to their obligations as it relates to the CPA which they signed in 2005 and as it relates to Darfur.
Those steps and those clear paths had been, before the President gave the speech in New York, had been clearly communicated to the parties, both North and South, by General Gration and Ambassador Lyman. During the course of the last several weeks after that announcement, several parties had gone to the region on our behalf and expressed – continued to express those two paths to the parties. We had heard back from several that the North in particular had asked for clarity around one issue – the state sponsor of terror and the designation of Sudan as one of the state sponsors of terrorism.
So at the President's request, Chairman Kerry went to the region on Friday and has had meetings over the last couple days with NCP and Government of South Sudan officials about a decision that we have taken in the Administration to move up our readiness to rescind the designation of Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism as early as July 2011, provided that the parties – and in this case in particular, the Government of Sudan – lives up to its obligations to, one, prepare for, conduct – prepare for and conduct a transparent, on-time referendum on the status of Southern Sudan. Two, to respect the results of that referendum, and three, between January when the referendum will be held, and July, when the CPA period is to end pursuant to that agreement, they implement all the appropriate post-referendum agreements as it relates to, among other things, border demarcation, oil revenue-sharing, currency, citizenship, and other matters.
And we've also made very clear to the parties – Senator Kerry did this on the President's behalf – that we will continue to monitor conduct as it relates to Darfur, and has indicated very clearly that actions like the targeting of civilians, the use (inaudible) proxies, the denial of humanitarian access, and the hindrance of UNAMID forces will reflect negatively on our abilities to carry out these steps. But we've made very clear over the course of the last couple days on these meetings – and I know that Senator Kerry is making clear this evening in Addis to many of the regional parties – that it's very clear the steps that the Government of Sudan has to take to meet the criteria to be taken off the state sponsors of terrorism list and it's our hope that they take those steps to ensure that they can do that.
With that, let me hand it over to [Senior Administration Official Two].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks, [Senior Administration Official One]. Let me add that this diplomacy that we're engaged in really started about six months ago and has increasingly intensified to where we are today. Approximately six months ago, we augmented substantially our diplomatic presence in South Sudan and Juba by appointing a very senior former ambassador to be our consul general out there, Barrie Walkley. We have virtually tripled the staff on the ground and we have engaged with the parties, both the NCP in the North and the SPLM in the South.
General Gration has made innumerable trips to Khartoum over the last six months and we have seen the President's commitment to this – through effort to find a peaceful solution intensify, and as pointed out, President was – participated in a UN session hosted by Ban Ki-moon on September 24th in which there were some 40 heads of states and heads of organizations from around the world participating. It was another effort to focus the international community's attention on the need to find a peaceful solution, a peaceful, on-time solution to the CPA.
We are determined to do as much as we possibly can. Senator Kerry's trip out to the region is the second one that he has undertaken within the last three weeks. And it is a reflection of the commitment that we have to do everything that we possibly can to see that the referenda in Darfur and Abyei are held on time and that we do as much as we possibly can to ensure that the outcome is a peaceful one rather than a resumption of conflict between those two countries, the two areas.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. With that opening, why don't – Operator, why don't we open up the lines for any questions that the media have.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1 on your touchtone phone. Please unmute your phone and record your name clearly when prompted. Once again, please press *1 if you would like to ask a question.
The first question is from Nadia Bilbassy. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yes, hi. Thank you for doing this. It's obvious that the United States is going through a balancing act in terms of trying to see this referenda through. But some people in the region, particularly in Sudan and the Middle East, are worried that the United States is giving too many concessions to a dictator who has been indicted by the ICC. What does it say about the United States prestige in the region? And how are you going to balance that against what's happening in Darfur?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Well – this is [Senior Administration Official One]. I thank you very much for the question and I just (inaudible) for the referendum, I hasten to point everybody's attention to a chart that we've been keeping and updating weekly each Friday and posting on the Darfur – on the Sudan envoy's website at the State Department website. You'll see that based on the vast evidence available to the United States Government, we have made some determinations on a weekly basis of the preparations for and readiness for these on-time referenda. That's one.
Two, as it relates to the balancing act, I think one, I disagree a little bit with the premise of the question. It's quite clear what the Government of Sudan needs to do as it relates to the CPA. It is, after all, a party to the CPA. It signed it and it knows the steps that it needs to take similarly as it relates to Darfur. And all the communication that we've had, including the written and oral communication that Senator Kerry took to the region this weekend on behalf of the President made very clear the kinds of actions the U.S. Government and the international community expect to see as it relates to Darfur to include, as I indicated earlier, no attacks on civilians, humanitarian access, no impeding of UNAMID, and obviously, we will continue to watch those steps very clearly.
So it is not a balancing act for us. In fact, this is a series of requirements on the parties to live up to those requirements, and that's what we intend to continue to call on them to do.
MR. CROWLEY: This is P.J. Crowley. Let me just add to that, that this is performance-based. Even in the context of our offer to potentially advance rescinding of the state sponsor of terrorism, even there as well, Sudan has to meet the criteria under U.S. law to qualify for that action. And that action, in turn, is based on very specific obligations that the North has agreed to undertake, as [Senior Administration Official One] just said, within the CPA.
And adding to the list is that even though there has been progress in terms of advancing preparations for the referendum on South Sudan, we do recognize that the parties are still negotiating arrangements with respect to Abyei. And this is premised on the parties, North and South, coming to a mutually acceptable understanding about how to proceed on Abyei. We still believe that there's time to have an on-time referendum on Abyei, but we recognize that time is of the essence here. But this will be purely based on the performance of South Sudan and the North if they perform as we've outlined here, and we've tried to be fully – complete clarity in terms of the opportunity that's available to Sudan, if it follows the path that the President, supported by General Gration, Ambassador Lyman, and others have put forward over the past couple of months.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: And this is [Senior Administration Official Three]. I would just add a small point at the very end here, which is that this follows the renewal of a set of targeted sanctions on Sudan by the President earlier this month related specifically to the conditions on Darfur. And those Executive Order sanctions remain in place, and they are the ones that have a significant effect on Sudan's economy and on the Government of Sudan itself.
OPERATOR: Our next question will be from Laura Rozen. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thanks for doing this. Can you speak to the selection of Senator Kerry to be the envoy for President Obama on this? You have all this diplomatic firepower, as you mentioned, in the region. So can you talk about that? And also, when was Sudan placed on the – designated as a state sponsor of terror?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: It was – this is [Senior Administration Official One]. I think they were first designated in 1993, and so it's been some time. That's one. Two, as it relates to the selection of Senator Kerry, the President and Senator Kerry have been talking about this issue in the context of the United States policy now for some time. Obviously, the President served on the committee in the Senate as a senator, but continually in support of Scott's work and Secretary Clinton's work on this important assignment.
So when he came back from a recent trip – I think it's about six weeks ago now – he sat down with many of us and gave a readout to the President. And it was based on that readout that we went back and took a hard look at where we stood and whether we could, as P.J. said, move up our consideration of the designation, provided, again, that the Sudanese meet targets. We like to consider this a pay-for-performance operation, and we will continue to make sure that in the event that the Sudanese hit these very important targets, many of which are spelled out, again, on the State Department website at the Sudan page. The most recent update is dated for Friday, November 5th, drawing on all the information available to the United States Government.
We thought that Senator Kerry was the perfect person to go back, both because of his wide respect (inaudible) parties on the Hill, but also because of the fact that he and the President have been working and the Secretary have been working on this issue now for several months.
QUESTION: Thanks. Did the government of the North make the request about getting off the state terror sponsor list to him? Was that conveyed through Kerry on his previous trip?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: They've been – that's been conveyed. As [Senior Administration Official Three] probably knows this better or [Senior Administration Official Two] probably knows this better than anybody, but I think it's been conveyed both publicly and privately for an awful long time. Is that fair to say, [Senior Administration Official Two] or [Senior Administration Official Three]?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: That's – yes, absolutely. It's been one of the heavy demands of the NCP for a number of years. But we've also heard this through other leaders in the region who have contacts, high-level contacts in Khartoum. They too have expressed the opinion that this might be a step that would be useful in convincing the Sudanese to have an on-time referendum and one that is credible.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I would just say, just to follow up and I think as [Senior Administration Official Three] did and P.J. did, obviously, so this will still continue to be contingent on the two criteria laid out in the statute creating a state sponsor list, which is one, that the country in question not support international terrorism for the preceding six months, and two, that they provide assurances that they will not resume providing that kind of support to international terrorism. The two most recent examples of an administration making a decision to do this are, of course, North Korea in October 2008 by the Bush Administration and then Libya, and the exact timing of action – it escapes me at the moment, but that was also a Bush Administration.
OPERATOR: The next question will be from Farah Stockman. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, thanks to everyone for doing this. My understanding is that this proposal that Kerry took this weekend had some concrete language about Abyei, it was some kind of U.S. proposal about how to resolve the impasse there. Is that accurate and are – is – are you conveying that you don't want – you're not open to compromise on a referendum in Abyei?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Not as --
QUESTION: And I guess I have one other just clarification about the terrorism list. And under your previous plan, when would that have happened? You've moved up this step. When would it have happened in the previous plan and why is it – what are the concrete things that Sudan will get when this – when they're removed from the list?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Right. So a couple things. One, it is completely inaccurate to suggest that there is an American proposal either in this set of documents that the chairman carried or otherwise on Abyei. The parties themselves are working that issue very aggressively in the context of and under the good auspices of former President Mbeki. And it's entirely within their hands to make those decisions since they are the parties to the CPA.
Two, as it relates to when this would have happened under the previous proposal that we had – Scott had laid down and the President outlined in New York, it would have been, I think, arguable – arguably much later in 2011, if not early 2012, specifically because it was going expressly to final resolution of the situation in Darfur.
QUESTION: Right, right.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: So we are looking at sometime late – much later than as early as July 2011. Lastly --
QUESTION: And is this [Senior Administration Official One] talking? I'm sorry, who is –
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: It is [Senior Administration Official One], yep.
QUESTION: All right, it's [Senior Administration Official One].
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: The last point, Farah, is the one that [Senior Administration Official Three] made. I hasten to point out that because of the way the statutes are written, this President or any president has very little leeway to withdraw the sanctions that are currently in place in Sudan as a result of Darfur. Those sanctions were initially applied by Executive Order, but have been subsequently codified by the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act.
So what we would be in a position to do and what the Secretary and the President would be in a position to do come July 2011, provided, again, in this pay-for-performance laydown that we have, that the Government of Sudan meets the requirements that we have laid out, and frankly, that are laid out expressly in the CPA. Then we would be in a position to remove the designation and then we'd be in a position to work with the Congress provided we see the kind of progress we would expect to be in a position over the course of time as the resolution in Darfur becomes clearer, along the line as required in the DPAA, to work with them to get legislative relief on the sanctions currently in place on Sudan.
I hope that responds to the question.
QUESTION: Do you think – would they get something – so now, just so I understand, if this designation has moved up, this would kind of be the good thing that could happen if they collaborate with the referendum. Is there something else that they would hold out for, for the final resolution of Darfur? Is there another big carrot that you could have, or a removal of a stick that you could have after (inaudible)?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: The sanction – yeah, just to be clear, the sanctions associated with the designation would remain in place until we are able to get legislative relief from Congress to lift the statutory restrictions in place as a result of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act.
QUESTION: Okay. So they could get out the list, but they'd still have to do right by Darfur in order, maybe, for Congress to take away the sanctions?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: That is correct.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL THREE: In addition to that, there is no way of getting long-term debt relief without the resolution of Darfur or final improvement of relations to exchange of ambassadors and that sort of thing without improvement in Darfur.
MR. CROWLEY: And sorry, this is P.J. Crowley. I'll piggyback off of [Senior Administration Official Three], just to go back and make the point that you started with on Abyei, that the – it's the parties that are negotiating have to resolve the requirements to move forward on Abyei. On the margins of the UN General Assembly in September, we brought the parties together in New York to have a weekend session to begin the conversation on Abyei. That continued in October in Addis. And it has been continuing here in recent days, led by Thabo Mbeki. So we're doing everything that we can to facilitate this negotiation, but it ultimately is up to the parties to decide how to move forward on Abyei. And [Senior Administration Official Two] and [Senior Administration Official Three] can add any other details they want to.
OPERATOR: Our next question will be from Margaret Warner. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, everyone. Thanks for doing this. I just have a follow-up on Abyei. Would the U.S. support a resolution in which Abyei really doesn't ever have a referendum, but that the South essentially (inaudible) it under an agreement with the North and return for certain things that it would give the North, just one of the things that's being discussed? Would the U.S. have a problem with us?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Far be it from us, Margaret, to get in the middle of a set of discussions that the parties themselves are having and it's – we're not going to prejudge the outcome of those. I think as [Senior Administration Official Two] spelled out and as the President spelled out in his speech up at the UN, the parties themselves are party to the CPA. The CPA has spelled out a way forward as it relates to both of these referenda. And until we hear otherwise, that's what we believe should happen.
QUESTION: Okay. But do you – is it making any kind of – just following up on the earlier question, any kind of line in the sand about Abyei must have a referendum? That's totally on the table as far as you're concerned, if the parties were to resolve it another way?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We think that that's a question most appropriate for the parties and then for former President Mbeki, and that's where that's being worked through at the moment.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: The next question comes from Andrew Gully. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, good afternoon. Just – can you just confirm that President Bashir's ICC indictment is in no way up for discussion in these arrangements?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: President Bashir's what? I'm sorry.
QUESTION: ICC indictment.
MR. CROWLEY: It's not affected.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: We – yeah, you can confirm that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: The next question is from Lou Kesten. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Yeah, hi. Apologies for this; this is just a quick technical question. I was told this is a background briefing. Are any of you guys on the record with anything you said in this conversation?
PARTICIPANT: I assume background means background; is that right, P.J.?
MR. CROWLEY: Yep.
QUESTION: Okay, very good. That's all.
OPERATOR: As a reminder, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. And our next question is from Mary Beth Sheridan. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you. I just wanted to ask a favor. I don't want to keep everybody on the line, but I just tuned in a couple minutes ago. I didn't – we didn't have --
PARTICIPANT: You missed all the best stuff.
QUESTION: Well, yeah. I mean, unfortunately, we seemed to get very little notice. So I'm just wondering if somebody afterwards could stay on the line and just run down the main points quickly, if possible?
MR. CROWLEY: Sure.
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, we'll do a transcript of this and have it out as soon as we can for posterity, so we'll do that too.
QUESTION: Yeah. It's just – unfortunately, it's tricky timing right now, so just – I just want to see if there's sort of news or not.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay.
OPERATOR: And at this time, I'm showing no further questions.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: All right. P.J. and [Senior Administration Official Two] and [Senior Administration Official Three], I'm going to jump off. I appreciate everybody for joining and I'll be available if you need anything else.
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. Tell you what. [Senior Administration Official Two], do you want to do some final comments and maybe go back over a couple of the high points just for those who came in late to reinforce what we've said at the beginning?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Again, I hope everybody will pardon my very scratchy voice. Let me just say this, is that Senator Kerry has been in the region at the request of President Obama since Friday evening, and he has met with leaders from both the North and the South. This is a part of our ongoing commitment to do everything that we can to ensure that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is fully implemented, the referendum is carried out on time and is credible on January 9.
In September, Scott Gration went to the region and laid out very, very clearly the requirements that we in the United States have towards establishing a normalized relationship with the Government of Sudan, and also to help it move away and off the list of state sponsors of terrorism. We are committed to working this issue, and as a part of that effort, this past weekend, the President asked Senator Kerry to travel to Khartoum and to Juba to again iterate our views.
There were, in fact, two new elements that [Senior Administration Official One] talked about that are related to what Senator Kerry did. One was to indicate that the U.S. was prepared to accelerate the removal of Sudan from the state sponsor of terrorism list if the Government of Sudan did two things. One is to fully implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and two, to live up to all of the legal conditions required under law for Sudan to be taken off the state sponsors list.
By doing this, we would also be decoupling the state sponsor of terrorism from Darfur and from the Darfur issue. But by doing this, we would in no way undermine the importance that we attach to having a resolution of the humanitarian and political problems that have plagued Darfur for the last decade. Comprehensive sanctions that were put in place in 2003 and 2004 would remain in place until we saw a resolution of the Darfur crisis. But the proposal or one of the accelerated aspects of the proposal that Senator Kerry carried out to the parties would, in fact, permit Sudan to be off the state sponsors of terrorism list as early as July 2011, but only under the conditions that they fully complied with the CPA agreement and that they also complied to the legal mandates, two of them, which are critical that [Senior Administration Official One] outlined pertaining to the rescission of the state sponsors list.
MR. CROWLEY: That gives you a kind of review of the headlines here. Thanks for joining us and enjoy the rest of your Sunday.
OPERATOR: This concludes today's conference. You may disconnect at this time. Thank you.
 Southern Sudan
 The exchange of ambassadors is possible prior to full resolution of the Darfur conflict.