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U.S. Negotiator Robert Zoellick Returns from Darfur Peace Talks

May 8, 2006 at 4:40 PM EDT

RAY SUAREZ: Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick returned this weekend from Africa, where he helped negotiate a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and a main faction of Darfur’s largest rebel group. And he joins us now.

Mr. Deputy Secretary, welcome.

ROBERT ZOELLICK, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State: Thank you.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, in her report tonight from Sudan, Margaret Warner said that Darfur is a wild and lawless place with no sign yet that anything is about to change. What has to happen in order for the people in the camps to see the result of your work, diplomatically?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, the peace agreement is just a start. It’s a critical step, but there’s a lot that has to be built on it.

I understand that Margaret was in Kalma camp, which is one that I visited. It’s a huge camp, and I think the report I got was some of the demonstrations today were due to the fact that people are worried about their food being cut.

So one of the things that President Bush has called for today is the United States has provided about 85 percent of the food so far this year to Sudan. We’re going to divert and bring more food in with the help of the Congress, but we need some people to help on the food side.

Second, we need to strengthen the security arrangements, and that’s helping with the African Union force on the ground, about 7,200 people, but that’s not enough people for an area the size of Texas. So we want to try to move in the U.N. this week, based on this peace agreement, and add a U.N. force.

And then, third, we need to eventually create, in addition to the security conditions, the situation so people can go home, so we need to help on the reconstruction and development. And one of the things that I was doing this weekend involved the Dutch offering to organize a conference.

So you’re exactly right: It’s a violent place. It’s a place of tragedy and great sadness, but now there’s a chance, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

Critical points of the agreement

Robert Zoellick
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
The most critical [provision] on the security side requires the government to neutralize and disarm the Janjaweed, the armed horsemen that have wreaked so much havoc and have created the genocide.

RAY SUAREZ: What are the main points of the agreement? And what does it oblige the parties -- the rebels and the government in Khartoum -- to do?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, it's about an 85-page agreement, and it was mediated by the African Union, which did a tremendous job. The United States and others came in at the end to try to make sure we could bring it to closure.

But it has security provisions; it has political provisions; and it has economic provisions.

The most critical on the security side require the government to neutralize and disarm the Janjaweed, the armed horsemen that have wreaked so much havoc and have created the genocide. And that has to be verified by the African Union before the rebel forces move into the assembly areas.

Then, in addition, on the security side, eventually you have to bring those rebel forces into education and training programs or some into the military, just like was done with the North-South accord, another long, long conflict in the case of Sudan.

On the political side, there is a provision that allows the region of Darfur to decide, the three states, whether they want to be a region in a referendum.

And, in the meantime, this is one of the areas that we strengthened. It creates a transitional regional authority. It also gives Darfur more of a role at the state and local level and also at the national level.

And then, on the economic side, it's a question of sharing hundreds of millions of dollars from Khartoum, which they agreed to do, backed by the international community, to give a chance for reconstruction and development.

So that's 85 pages in a nutshell, but there's a lot of detail that's going to have to be implemented with the help of the international partners.

Recognizing the first steps

RAY SUAREZ: You noted that one of the first steps was for the government in Khartoum to disarm the Janjaweed. This is a government that for a long time wouldn't even acknowledge it had any links to the Janjaweed. Are you confident they're going to do that?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, I think, you know, the lesson of Sudan and Darfur is that you have to get people to commit, but then you have to follow through, and you have to monitor it, which is in this agreement.

And they have an incentive, which is, number one, if they want the rebel movements to move to the assembly areas, they have to get the African Union to be able to verify. And if, as with the North-South accord, they want to be accepted by the international community, they're also going to have to follow through.

So there are signs that the government recognizes that the course that it followed over the past couple of years has led to nothing but heartache and disaster, but, as in any of these arrangements, we all have to keep the pressure up.

That's also why we need to get more forces in the region. People aren't going to leave those camps. You have two million people in hundreds of camps; they're not going to leave until they know the place is safe.

So we need to create incentives for all sides to create finally some chance for opportunity and hope for these poor people.

Dissenting voices

Robert Zoellick
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
One of the roles that the United States can help play is, not only help people find a solution, but help give a sense that the United States can use its power and influence to try to drive through the follow-up.

RAY SUAREZ: The largest of all the rebel armies is now in the agreement, but are the ones that remained outside it still large enough to continue to cause trouble in that region?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, this is where our partnership with the African Union is very important. President Obasanjo of Nigeria, who did a fantastic job chairing these discussions -- it was night and day for about three or four days -- has also arranged that, on May 15th, there will be a meeting of the African Union Peace and Security Council to try to get all the African states to back and support this, which I think they primarily are oriented to do, but then also put some pressure on the rebel groups to sign up.

The second group, the one led by a man named Abdul Wahid, had some break in his group even as we were signing the agreement, so some of the members of his group are coming to join Mr. Mini Minnawi, who was the military commander of the SLA-SLM forces.

So there needs to be a process to encourage them and also press them to go forward because it remains a very violent place. I understood that, at the Kalma camp, some of the demonstrators positively not only wanted more food, but they also were encouraging people to sign onto the peace agreement.

So that's what we need to work with: the European Union, African Union, Arab League, all of the partners now.

RAY SUAREZ: The reporting from Nigeria, where you were doing the negotiating, says that there came a sticking point where you then presented a letter from President Bush to Minnawi, the leader of the Sudanese Liberation Army. Can you tell us what it said?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, there were a lot of sticking points, but one of the points that -- the one you're referring to is that -- somewhere I think between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. -- we were trying to give some assurance to the SLM that the United States would back this agreement.

So I had worked over the past day or so to get a letter from the president that mentioned the United States would help in the monitoring, the implementation, and that we would hold parties accountable for the failure to live up to the agreement, including through the U.N. Security Council.

What it also said, as the president said today, that we would back on the development and reconstruction side.

So, you know, this is a cause, Ray, of all I've dealt with in foreign policy over some 20 years that I'm not sure I've ever seen as much broad support from churches, from communities and universities. And so I think one of the things that we know, working with the Congress, we can back this up, in terms of resources, as well as on the security side.

And those assurances are very important, because, you know, the heart of the story that you're telling is there's a tremendous amount of fear and distrust. And one of the roles that the United States can help play is, not only help people find a solution, but help give a sense that the United States can use its power and influence to try to drive through the follow-up.

Food and Security

RAY SUAREZ: The rainy season is fast approaching. If things don't happen very quickly, does that mean some of those displaced persons are going to have to remain in those camps until it's over?

ROBERT ZOELLICK: Well, I think they're going to remain in the camps until you create better security conditions, but the effect of the rainy season, which really runs through June to the autumn, goes to the food issue.

The U.N. has reported that, because of lack of contributions by others to the World Food Programme, they're having to cut some of the support, and that's why President Bush announced we're diverting some ships at sea, even though we provided 85 percent of the commitments, to try to, in a sense, even double what we've already provided.

I think the European Union is going to step up and do some more, but you have to get the food in before June so that you have it at the camps. That's one key point.

The second point is, obviously, it's harder to bring in security forces, whether they be African Union or others. I was struck today the Egyptians announced that they're offering to help back a peacekeeping mission. The Rwandans may be able to add some more troops.

When President Bush was in South Asia, he talked to the Indians and the Pakistanis. The U.N. mission will take a little bit of time, but to help enhance the likelihood this agreement will be successful, we need to try to get more forces in sooner.

RAY SUAREZ: Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick, thanks for being with us.