The Trump administration's top Africa diplomat lashed out at South Sudan's rulers on Monday, and urged the country's warring parties to defer agreement on "sticky issues" until after a transitional government is formed.
"The elites need to get to the point of serving their own people instead of their own selfish interests," declared Mr Tibor Nagy, US assistant secretary of state for African affairs.
BONE OF CONTENTION
"The international community is sick and tired and fed up with providing the government services that the government of South Sudan should be providing for its own people."
Mr Nagy also warned that stable peace may not be achieved for years if leaders do not meet the February 22 deadline for forming a transitional government.
The question of how many states the country ought to consist of should be resolved after the parties have first met that deadline, Mr Nagy suggested.
Agreement on the number of states will be reached as "a political decision" and not as a technical fix, he added.
"Why not go ahead, form the unity government, and then deal with these very, very difficult issues, because each party has their own constituents, to resolve," Mr Nagy told reporters in a teleconference.
South Sudan President Salva Kiir wants to retain the 32 states, but opposition leader Riek Machar wants them reduced to the initial 10 state system. Opposition parties led by Mr Machar and Dr Lam Akol have rejected suggestions to have the matter go for arbitration for 90 days, which would be long after the formation of the transitional government.
Mr Nagy drew a contrast between the impasse in South Sudan and the breakthrough that was achieved in neighbouring Sudan, from where he spoke on Monday.
"Here in Sudan," he said, "they had even more complicated issues to deal with during last year. And instead of trying to find solutions to all of these very difficult problems, they decided and agreed to just put those to the side, form the transitional government, and then deal with the issues during the transition period."
Mr Nagy's comments echo the Trump administration's announcement last year that it would "re-evaluate" Washington's relationship with Juba.
That assertion was made following South Sudan leaders' failure to meet a November 2019 deadline to form a unity government.
The US was a major player in pushing for the creation of South Sudan in 2011, and has poured billions of dollars in aid. the country was split by a civil war beginning in 2013 that has led to the loss of about 400,000 lives.