Briefing journalists after a U.N. Security Council meeting on Sudan yesterday, Ambassador Susan Rice offered perhaps the most pointed remarks we’ve seen from the Obama administration on their efforts in Sudan – fully warranted given the very high stakes in Sudan this year and the recent uptick in violence.
Most notable was her acknowledgement of the influx in sophisticated weaponry into the South in recent months, a story that has been in the news for quite a bit. (On the anniversary of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement earlier this month, any mention of this ambiguous but distressing trend was remarkably absent from both Secretary Clinton’s and Special Envoy Gration’s remarks.) While there is not yet firm evidence of who is supplying these weapons, Ambassador Rice doesn’t hesitate to explain the source of the administration’s concern:
Part of the basis for the concern – although we are interested also in ascertaining the facts and we think the UN as a neutral party is best able to help in doing that – is there is a long history of the North fueling conflict in various parts of the periphery, including the South, by encouraging the arming of the population. So it is on that basis, as well as some anecdotal reports and some sporadic reporting, that we have that concern. But I imagine that weapons are also coming from elsewhere and we would like a full accounting.
Indeed, President Bashir and the ruling National Congress Party are masters of this tactic, having employed it since taking power in 1989 both in the South during the civil war and through the Janjaweed militias in Darfur. And now, as both ruling parties – in the North and the South – prepare for what many predict would be a return to war if the Comprehensive Peace Agreement collapses, it is reassuring to hear senior members of the administration publicly asking critical questions:
I think the issue is to find out what is the principle source, what is the motivation behind the flow of those weapons. Is this simply small arms trafficking of the sort that we see throughout the continent or is it actually a deliberate effort to sow instability?
Finally, on elections, Ambassador Rice offered a candid, sobering perspective, which is appropriate given the short window until the April vote. When asked about her “degree of confidence” that the country is prepared for elections, Rice said:
I wouldn’t say I am confident. I think there is still a great deal of work to be done. We were gratified that the registration process proceeded relatively peacefully. But there is a great deal that needs to be done between now and April, and the role of the United Nations is important in that regard. We are not pessimistic but I
wouldn’t say that we are optimistic.
As we’ve noted before, the time for gentle diplomatic urging has passed. Rice’s comments instill optimism that perhaps the deputies committee of the National Security Council, which met last week to review U.S. efforts on Sudan, is ready to begin rolling out the pressures to which the administration’s policy alludes.
Photo: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice (AP)