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U.N. to Address Continued Violence in Sudan

November 9, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: As we reported earlier in the broadcast, the government of Sudan today bowed to international pressure to reduce the violence in the Darfur region by agreeing to make it easier for humanitarian aid to reach more than one million people, and also agreeing to ban government flights over the area, where as many as 70,000 people have died.

Next week, the United Nations Security Council meets in Nairobi, Kenya, away from New York for the first time in 14 years, to tackle the problems in Sudan, including the ongoing civil war. John Danforth, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, has been in the middle of efforts to broker an end to that war and to the continuing crisis in Darfur. He joins us now. Welcome, Mr. Ambassador.


GWEN IFILL: We have seen so many of these agreements come and go. Tell us why today’s agreement is a step forward, if it is.

JOHN DANFORTH: It’s a step forward because it was made clear, I think, by… certainly by the Security Council and by the U.S. Government as well, that as the Security Council goes to Kenya for the peace talks, one of the things that would help pave the way for successful peace talks is to have these two protocols agreed to and signed. And that’s what happened today.

GWEN IFILL: And the two protocols would do what?

JOHN DANFORTH: Well, one is to… both of them deal with Darfur, which is the disaster in the western part of the country. One of them provides for humanitarian access, and the other provides for security, particularly in this no-fly zone concept. The peace talks are divided in two pieces. One is in Abuja, Nigeria, and that relates specifically to Darfur. And the other one is Kenya, and that’s what we’ll be visiting in the Security Council next week. That relates to the whole country. And the theory is, if we can work out a peace agreement for the whole country, it would also… it would also bring within it the problem in Darfur.

GWEN IFILL: Well, preview for us what you expect to come out of next week’s meeting in Nairobi. What has to come out of that? Does there have to be a date certain that everyone agrees on?

JOHN DANFORTH: It would be very important if both sides could agree to a date certain for a final peace agreement. We had hoped that we could get a final peace agreement when we went to Nairobi. That’s not going to happen. But if the parties could set a date certain– they’ve been at this for very a very long time, they’re down to just one significant, major point that’s left. It should be a resolvable issue. It’s really more of a math problem than anything else, I think. And it should be possible for both sides to reach an agreement if they want to. And what we want to accomplish is for them to set a date certain.

The second thing we want to accomplish is to lay out for both sides what Sudan could look like if it reached a peace agreement. And the fact that the international community is not going to turn away, it’s not going to cross Sudan off its to-do list, but it’s going to continue to be very engaged in Sudan, trying to make sure that Sudan is, in fact, a country that has a future.

GWEN IFILL: You mentioned a separate track of talks that are going on in Nigeria involving Darfur specifically. What is the connection between the efforts that you are leading next week in Nairobi that have to do with the ongoing civil war and the Darfur region? I think a lot of people might have those two situations mixed up in their minds.

JOHN DANFORTH: Right. And all of the experts that have spoken to us, the secretary, people from the U.N. who have spoken to us, and our own view in the U.S. Government, is that the two are closely related because a good part of the Darfur situation is a political issue. That is, there are various rebel groups. They feel that Darfur has been disenfranchised by the rest of… by the government of Sudan, and so that there is, at least in part, a political agenda. Now, if the political situation can be worked out in the talks that are going on in Kenya, that would encompass the whole country; and it would provide a framework for a peace agreement which would encompass Darfur as well.

GWEN IFILL: There have been at least, by my count, six protocols or agreements that have been worked out in the past. None of them had been enforced. Where is the incentive for the government of Sudan or the rebels, for that matter, to sign on to anything this time?

JOHN DANFORTH: You’re absolutely right. The history of Sudan for years has been a whole series of agreements that have been reached — they turn out to be paper agreements, it’s as though they’re written in disappearing ink — and they don’t amount to anything. So what we have found in dealing with Sudan is it’s important for the international community to have a continuing presence, to be there with monitors, to be there guaranteeing what was done on paper, to be there with peacekeepers. And this is part of the future that we hope to lay out when we’re there. If they reach a peace agreement, the world is not going to go away. We’re going to continue to be very, very engaged in the future of Sudan. So the hope is that the continuing international engagement in Sudan will provide a more durable peace.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about peacekeepers, I assume you’re referring to the African Union troop deployments, which I guess 3,000 is now what’s been agreed to. That 3,000 sounds like a lot of people at first glance, but we’re talking about just in Darfur, a region the size of France.


GWEN IFILL: Is that enough? Should there be more coming from other countries?

JOHN DANFORTH: There could be and there should be more coming from the African Union. The African Union has made it clear that in their view this really is an Africa problem. They want to deal with it themselves as an Africa problem. They have so far provided, or agreed to provide, between three and four thousand African Union troops to act as monitors. This could be expanded in the future.

The immediate need is to get the three to four thousand actually in place, which is a logistics issue. And the U.S. and other countries are working on that. We have committed some, I think, $40 million from the U.S. just for the logistics of them placing the African Union. Canada has committed a substantial amount of funds, so has the European Union. So we’ve got to get those people in place. Now, it’s a very big area. And four thousand – three or four thousand people doesn’t sound like a lot in an area the size of France. On the other hand, if they are there and if they are deployed around Darfur, it’s going to be more difficult for either the government of Sudan or the rebels or the militia, the so- called Janjaweed militia, to carry on some of these terrible activities and believe that the world isn’t watching. The world will be watching.

GWEN IFILL: Does the world have to do more than watch, though? I understand an African problem that the African Union is trying to resolve. But at what point does the United States, independent of the United Nations perhaps, have to assert its own forceful, independent, perhaps boots-on-the-ground effort to control what’s happening, especially in the Darfur region?

JOHN DANFORTH: Well, some have argued that. And they say that notwithstanding the U.N., the U.S. should go it alone. I mean, this would really be unilateralism if that’s what we did. But it’s not the position of the African Union. I think that because we are, our military is really extended, very engaged very much in other parts of the world right now, it’s doubtful that we’re going to do that. I think it would be impossible to get the Security Council to agree to that. So I believe that the most practical thing that could be done right now, basically two things that are the practical that could be done: One is the deployment of the African Union in Darfur in the most numbers that we can get in there. I think that’s very positive; and the second is to wrap up the North-South peace agreement, and that’s why we’re going over to Nairobi next week.

GWEN IFILL: The latest wrinkle in all of this has been the fourth relocation of people from refugee camps, 250 families, I believe, from one in southern Sudan last week. How do you address that?

JOHN DANFORTH: This has been addressed in two different Security Council resolutions. It’s a terrible situation. I mean, Darfur is a very, very terrible, miserable situation with terrible humanitarian abuses, abuses certainly by the government of Sudan, abuses by the government-supported militia, abuses also by the other side, by the rebel groups. And it’s going on. And the hope is that the combination of a comprehensive political settlement for the country, including Darfur, plus an expanded African Union presence, plus the continued monitoring on the part of the world community, the media certainly included, would have a chilling effect as far as the excesses by the various parties that are involved in these horrible acts.

GWEN IFILL: I know it’s your job as a diplomat to be the optimist, but at what point with promises not kept, with new atrocities documented every day, with new protocols signed and not enforced, at what point do you consider this a diplomatic failure?

JOHN DANFORTH: Well, it’s not… it’s certainly… so far, I’ve been at this for three-and-a-half years now, and I do not consider it to be a great diplomatic success, although there are parts of the country where it has been successful. In the middle of the country, in an area called the Nuba Mountains, it really has been positive. So I am not for just throwing up my hands and saying, “Okay, let’s give up on it.” I really believe that this is a time for intensive international attention to the problems of Sudan, and intensive efforts to bring these peace agreements to conclusion, and then great follow through after they are brought to conclusion. This is going to be a very defining time in the next, oh, two-month period of time.

GWEN IFILL: Ambassador John Danforth at the United Nations, thank you very much.