Washington, Asharq Al-Awsat- Last week, the ‘Sudan Summit’ took place in New York, as part of the UN General Assembly meetings, and was attended by U.S. President Barack Obama. Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti said that the meeting confirmed Sudan’s intention to hold a referendum in the South in January. He said that the government is committed to accepting the result, whether the South chooses to separate, or stay in a united country. Karti, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday in Washington, criticized the Obama Administration for “not having enough courage to face up to US pressure groups that have always been antagonistic towards President Omer Al-Bashir of Sudan.
Karti accused the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM), led by Silva Kiir Mayardit, First Vice President of Sudan and President of the Government of Southern Sudan, of “terrorism” against Southerners who support unity. Karti added that there are “hidden hands” behind such conduct.
The following is the full transcript of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What happened in the New York meeting attended by President Obama?
[Karti] It was as we expected, although surrounded by a lot of sensationalism, both in the media coverage and statements from some Americans, as if the end of the world was near. They worried about whether the referendum would take place; yet for about 20 years we have been supporting self-determination. They worried about whether the government would accept the results of the referendum; and we told them that since we have accepted self-determination, we should accept its results.
Furthermore, the New York meeting proved to us that there are hidden players [in the U.S. political arena] who have been directing US policy towards Sudan, all these years. We have heard positive promises from many US officials, but they have mostly been promises; we have yet to see actions.
Anyway, we welcome the recent positive steps by US officials. Of course, we know the importance and strength of America on the world stage; and if they want to begin a new page [of relations] with us, we have always wanted to do so with them. Ever since the beginning, we have not known whey they put us on their enemy list.
Of course, we are aware that President Obama’s hands are tied as far as domestic US policies are concerned. Not only in the case of Sudan, but, also in other cases of US relations with the Arab countries and the Muslim World.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the US government in support of Sudan’s unity, or separation?
[Karti] The officials didn’t officially state a position, and we didn’t expect them to, because they support the Southerners’ free will. However, we have always reminded them that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA, of 2005) contains an article that advocates unity over separation. This is our strategy with the Americans:
“You signed the CPA, the CPA prefers unity, and thus you should support the CPA.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is it in US interests to have a united, or a divided Sudan?
[Karti] Of course, only they decide that. But, any rational person would prefer unity to the break-up [of a country], in the interests of Sudan, Africa and the US.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Did you tell that to the US officials?
[Karti] As I just told you, we tell the Americans: “You signed the CPA (as signed by former Secretary of State Collin Powell, during the George W. Bush administration). Thus, you are part of the CPA which prefers unity.” We also tell them: “You are a third party in an agreement between two parties; why should you support one party against the other?”
This is what CPA says: Item 2.4.2: “The Parties shall work with the (AEC) Commission during the Interim Period with a view to improving institutions and arrangements created under the Agreement and making the unity of Sudan attractive.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Tell us about the efforts of Obama’s Special Envoy to Sudan, Scott Gration?
[Karti] He has visited Sudan around 20 times; and we appreciate his efforts. He listened to us, made promises, returned to Washington, but delivered no actions, returned to us, made promises, and so on. Recently, he returned to us, claiming he had good news, and that Obama was about to declare a new policy.
So far, we haven’t seen specific points in writing. All we hear is sensationalist media news about sanctions, ultimatums and slogans: “a carrot and a stick”; “a big carrot and a long stick”: and, recently, “pieces of carrots,” one piece at a time.
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry; this great and important country [The United States] has found itself in vicious circles, not only in its relations with Sudan, but also with other Arab and Muslim countries.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You blamed “certain circles” in Washington; what are these?
[Karti] As a foreign minister, I would rather not name names. But, I can say this: throughout the years, conservative Republicans, and Christian and Jewish fundamentalists, have been greatly influencing US policies towards Sudan and other Arab and Muslim countries. Also the Black Causes (Black members of Congress), I believe they are misguided. They don’t have enough facts; they repeatedly accuse Arabs of committing slavery in the past. They have a grudge against Arabs and Muslims, and want to enact revenge by dividing the Sudan.
Of course, we are aware of the US political complications, and of Washington’s lobbies and pressure groups. However that should not prevent us from insisting that current US policies are ultimately not in the interest of Sudan, the Africans, the Arabs, the Muslims – and the Americans themselves.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you see differences between the Bush Administration, and the Obama Administration in this regard?
[Karti] Not in the sense that both offered promises without actions. After the 2006 Abuja (Nigeria) agreement on Darfur, where I was a witness, former President Bush called President Al-Bashir and congratulated him on the agreement, which was sponsored by the US. He promised to open a ‘new page’ in the relations between the two countries, to lift the embargo, and to provide assistance. Promises, promises. Now, under the Obama Administration, there doesn’t seem to be many differences. If we liken the situation to “sports game overtime”, we would notice that the US itself seems to have realized “during overtime”, the break-up of Sudan is possible.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sudan’s Vice-President, and President of the Government of Southern Sudan, Silva Kiir Mayardit, was in Washington last week, and he said that all indications pointed towards an overwhelming Southern vote for impendence?
[Karti] We have two major problems in negotiating with Silva Kiir and SPLM’s leaders: Firstly, they are not honest negotiators; they say something today and deny it tomorrow, and they keep changing their minds. Secondly, it seems that they are driven by hidden factors. When a US official visits Juba, or one of them [SPLM leaders] comes to Washington, we hear something different.
Now, when Silva Kiir came to Washington, why didn’t he say that the CPA has an article advocating unity? Also, why did he say “independence”, and not “secession”? This is what CPA says: Item 2.5: “At the end of the six-year Interim Period there shall be an internationally monitored referendum, organized jointly by GOS and SPLM/A for the people of Southern Sudan to: confirm the unity of Sudan by voting to adopt the system of government established under the peace agreement, or to vote for secession”.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Silva Kiir also said that the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), during its five year reign since the CPA, has not made unity attractive?
[Karti] Another example of the SPLM being insincere is our belief that certain circles drive them. The NCP had made unity attractive in three major ways: Firstly, it is committed to the CPA, which clearly advocates unity. Secondly, the NCP is committed to the referendum and its results, whether they are in favour of unity or secession. Thirdly, the government, since the introduction of the CPA, has invested about three billions dollars in the South, on construction and development projects. Bear in mind, this is from our share of the oil; not from the South’s share. I wonder what the Southerners have done with their share?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do the Southerners, factually, want secession or unity?
[Karti] There are huge differences between the Sudanese elite, the SPLM leaders, and the citizens. For this reason, we insist that the referendum should be free and fair, because we are convinced that the average Southerner is not against the North. How could he be, when there are about 1.5 million Southerners in the North? They said they were attacked and bombarded by the North, but still they came to the North. Why? Because the Northerners are good, decent and proud people. They would never have found similar treatment had they moved to Kenya or Uganda.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What if the referendum is not fair and free?
[Karti] I would rather not give you an answer that would add to the problems; I would just say that we hope the referendum will be free and fair.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the SPLM leaders that you said we different from the average Southerner?
[Karti] SPLM leaders are using terrorism tactics to prevent the Southerners from voting for unity. They allow secessionists to demonstrate, but not unionists. They threaten, pressure, and dismiss whoever calls for unity. Look at what happened to Dr. Lual Deng, Minister of Oil, after his statements to ‘Asharq al-Awsat’. (In an interview, Deng called for unity and claimed that John Garang, SPLM/SPLA founder and leader was his friend and boss, and was a unionist. A few days after the interview, Dr. Deng issued a statement denying what he had previously said, amid news reports that he was criticized, pressured and almost fired).
We don’t know what more we can do with the SPLM leaders. We send ministers and top officials to Juba to help the South in construction and development projects, and we are told that the South will coordinate and cooperate with Kenya and Uganda.
Furthermore, SPLM leaders cooperate with certain US groups that we believe are detrimental to Sudan, both North and South. All these groups want is the break-up Sudan, as part of their efforts to weaken the Arab and Muslim countries. These groups keep pressuring us, sending us a demand after a demand. In fact, the only demand we haven’t heard from them is to cease being Muslims.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In interviews with Asharq Al-Awsat, some Southern leaders, calling for secession, demanded the following from the Northerners:
(1) An apology for past mistakes.
(2) Financial reparations.
(3) A secular constitution.
(4) Not to be labelled as an “abid” (slave)
[Karti] (1) An apology for what? For President Al-Bashir, the first Sudanese president to call for the self-determination of the South? For our commitment to the CPA? For withdrawing all our troops from the South, whilst Southern troops are still in the North?
(2) Reparations? How about all the money that the North spent on the South throughout the years? Since the beginning of the CPA, the North has spent three billion dollars, from our oil revenue shares, on the South.
(3) If they want secession, why do they worry about a secular constitution? In the name of a so-called ‘secular’ constitution, Sudan has been invaded, sanctioned and pressured. Is Sudan the only country with an Islamic constitution? Enemies of Sudan, Arabs and Muslims, have assisted the SPLA in invading parts of the North using tanks. They almost reached Port Sudan (the main port on the Red Sea), and declared that they were planning to take Khartoum, remove the Islamic government and write a “secular” constitution. Thanks to God Almighty, they failed.
(4) It is irresponsible and a travesty that SPLM leaders talk about being insulted as “abids” (slaves). Sudan is facing a new historical chapter and they talk about being insulted? People have insulted people in every country, and throughout history. The fact that SPLM leaders talk about this proves their short-sightedness, and they need to be more confident in themselves.
Thanks to God, the NCP is very confident of itself.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does the NCP plan to accept the South secession so as to keep the North under the Shariaa Islamic law?
[Karti] Firstly, how could that be [our agenda], when we signed the CPA that clearly supports unity? Secondly, the recent general elections have shown that the majority of the Northerners voted for President Al-Bashir and the NCP.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If Sudan separates, it will be a historical step. Who will be responsible? The NCP?
[Karti] Also the SPLM.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Finally, are you optimistic or pessimistic?
[Karti] Amid these foreign efforts to poison the situation in the Sudan, and with SPLM terrorist tactics against Southern unionists, I believe unity would lead to more problems and would further hurt Sudan. On the other hand, if the referendum is free and fair, we believe the majority of Southerners will vote for unity.