On Wednesday, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the challenges facing the forty million people of Sudan. General Gration gave a sobering and honest assessment of the post-election situation in Darfur, where violence has been on the rise, and of the potential roadblocks to a peaceful [...]

On Wednesday, U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the challenges facing the forty million people of Sudan. General Gration gave a sobering and honest assessment of the post-election situation in Darfur, where violence has been on the rise, and of the potential roadblocks to a peaceful and transparent referenda process early next year.

The Senators pressed General Gration on the administration’s plans and available resources to respond effectively to “all possible scenarios.” As Senator John Kerry noted, the international community is in a rare position to have “a map of the fault-lines” of a crisis. While General Gration seemed to be surprisingly comfortable with the current resources at his own disposal within the State Department, he acknowledged the magnitude of the challenge. For example, General Gration agreed with the recent assessment by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair that South Sudan is currently the area of the world most at-risk for mass killing or genocide. He also highlighted the key issues that could be triggers for conflict during the referendum period – most notably the demarcation of borders and oil sharing.

On Darfur, General Gration stressed for the first time in unequivocal language that general insecurity and lawlessness remains his chief concern.  Rather than once again touting gains from the protracted peace talks in Doha or the diplomatic rapprochement between Sudan and Chad, he stated bluntly that such progress on the strategic level “has not changed the lives of people on the ground…[who] don’t have a way out.” Specifically, he noted as unacceptable the continuing offensive in Jebel Marra, the continued aerial bombardments by the Sudanese Armed Forces, and the breakdown in the ceasefire between the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese government.  His frank acknowledgement of the unfilled gaps in services for victims of gender-based violence since the expulsion of 13 humanitarian aid organizations in March 2009 was also particularly noteworthy.

To make progress on comprehensive security in Darfur, General Gration described his efforts to push the United Nations/African Union peacekeeping force to “get out of the [major] towns” and to patrol the roads and the rural areas. This appeal carried the caveat that it is the Government of Sudan that has the ultimate responsibility to provide protection to its citizens and that they continue to fail miserably. In highlighting the unchanged mentality of the regime, he noted that the walis (governors) and local government leaders in Darfur have done very little to put in legal systems to identify those who commit crimes and then to bring them to justice.

With such disturbing realities in Darfur and potential for violence in the South, the Senators wanted to know how the United States could increase its leverage in Sudan. Some, like Senator Roger Wicker, accurately questioned whether Secretary Hillary Clinton or Ambassador Susan Rice should be making this more of a personal priority. He even noted a series of ads by Save Darfur and some of our partners making this case. In response, General Gration felt that the current level of involvement of Clinton and Rice was sufficient. With that said, he also announced that he would be sending a senior level diplomat to Juba next month to lead a diplomatic surge before the referendum.

It was also refreshing to hear General Gration agree with Save Darfur’s position that the international community as a whole is not coordinated, nor doing enough – and that this must change. This point relates to another critical statement by Gration: that continuing to marginalize the regime in Khartoum can be an effective pressure point. This was his response to a question from Senator Russell Feingold on what tools the United States would have available if Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party attempted to disrupt the 2011 referendum. General Gration would not reveal specific decisions that could be made by Obama’s National Security Council, but he said the United States would not tolerate any “messing” with the referendum. And then he importantly added that our forms of pressure can be more effective if we can get other nations to go along with them.

This revealing conversation then begs the question of what is the administration doing to make its incentives and pressures on the Sudanese government multilateral. The United States clearly did not attempt to sync closely its response to the fraudulent elections with other countries. So while a State Department spokesperson said the elections would not bestow legitimacy on the Bashir regime, there was not a coordinated message coming from our partners in Europe or important countries in Africa and the Arab world – some of which actually made statements suggesting the elections did meet certain standards of acceptability.

Going forward, if multilateral pressure is the most effective foreign policy tool, what are General Gration and the administration doing to establish a unified international plan on the following sticks and carrots? Here are a few areas that should be explored:

  • Non-toleration for a Disrupted Referendum: while General Gration says a disruption will not be tolerated by the United States, it certainly could be by others in the same way the elections were accepted. What standards for success and consequences for failure are being jointly planned with European, African and Arab partners?
  • Oil and wealth sharing: a critical issue for the Chinese and Japanese, the largest importers of Sudanese oil. Are the United States, China, and Japan coordinated in pressuring the North and South to reach a deal before the referendum?
  • Border demarcation: both the African Union Panel on Darfur and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development are involved in the mediation of this issue. What consequences would other African countries have for either the North or the South if their actions were identified as obstructionist in finalizing the demarcation?
  • Debt-relief: a carrot that the Sudanese government wants desperately. What conditions has the United States set and is it working with global partners on this issue?
  • International Criminal Court: the non-cooperation of the Sudanese government and the indictment of Bashir will continue to make it a pariah state for many countries. Are the United States and its partners still clearly sending this message?

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