London, Asharq Al-Awsat- US Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick has stressed that his government is working “for the normalization of relations with Sudan” but pointed out that implementation of the peace agreements in the south and Darfur precedes any steps towards normalization. “We want implementation of the agreements, not just signing them.” He expressed his optimism that the Sudanese Government would allow the UN forces to enter the Darfur region in order to control the security situation in it.
Speaking to “Asharq al-Awsat” during a short visit to the United Kingdom, Zoellick said the United States is looking at obtainable ways of supporting the African Union (AU) forces in Darfur, explaining that this might include “NATO’s cooperation with them in logistical matters, including supplying them with intelligence information.”
The US deputy secretary of state said the signing of the peace agreement in the Nigerian capital Abuja on 5 May is a real opportunity for ending the violence in Darfur, adding: “It is an important step. However, there is still much work for implementing the agreement. There is much fear and mistrust.” He underlined the “need to connect the world of agreements to the real world on the ground”, a reference to the continuing suffering of the Darfur people. He called the UN resolution the day before yesterday — a “good step and there is with it a step of equal importance, namely, the African agreement giving the two rebel groups that did not sign the Darfur agreement to join it within two weeks.” He added: “Both stands show the alliance of Africa and the alliance of the international community to emphasize the importance of the Abuja peace agreement and its implementation.” He said: “The important thing now is the agreement’s implementation and taking the words from the paper” that is, applying them.
Zoellick stressed that this involves a number of issues, among them the need to bring food to Darfur. He said: “The timing of the UN Food Program’s announcement of a reduction in the food aid in Darfur so close to our reaching the peace agreement in Abuja was tragic, because there are real needy people in Darfur.” He added that he fears that these people might associate the peace process with the reduction of food rations and added that President George Bush “announced our intention to increase food aid to Darfur even though we are giving 85 percent of it at present.” He stressed that “it is important to bring the food and security to the reality on the ground” and added: “We must always remember that there are 2 million suffering in these tents. Some of the NGOs have started to withdraw from the camps because of the security conditions.” He also said that it is necessary to remember the years of wars and suffering in Sudan which caused “much fear and mistrust. The largest part of action now is to overcome the fear and mistrust and this requires more than words on paper.” He added: “The violence is not over yet. There is a chance to end it but the environment around (the agreement) remains very dangerous and fragile.”
Zoellick pointed out the importance of “disarming the (the Sudanese Government-backed) Janjawid so that the rebel militias reciprocate and lay down their weapons.” He expressed his hope that the Sudanese Government would agree to let international forces enter Darfur and said: “We are in contact with several Sudanese officials, especially Vice President Ali Uthman Muhammad Taha, and we reminded them of their request that they wanted to sign a peace agreement before agreeing to let in international forces. We worked tirelessly to reach the peace agreement and they must now stick to their pledges.”
He went on to say: “I hope that the move in this direction will be at a quicker pace. There is no need for more visits to the region to know what is needed.” He explained: “There are (AU) forces with experience on the ground now and we should benefit from them.” He noted that the deployment of international forces in the Darfur would require certain steps and said “the first of these is the deployment of more forces, like forces from Rwanda, in Darfur during the coming weeks and months to be followed by logistical support in summer and then bring in UN forces. Some are saying that this might become possible by September but might take more time than that.”
On disarming the Janjawid, the US official said the peace agreement does not specify the disarmament means but the AU must make certain that they are disarmed and added: “The situation is dangerous and there are several conflicts between various groups. This means that it is important that international forces should back the agreement so as to impose peace.” Zoellick explained that his country is exerting efforts to bolster the African forces in Darfur now and pointed out that “President Bush is urging NATO to help in the planning operations. There are around 7,000 soldiers from the AU forces who need logistics support, like intelligence about the sites of disturbances, and they need to be provided with transport means that help them reach these areas as quickly as possible.” He added: “We want to bring UN forces as quickly as possible but this takes time. We need time to arrange these forces.” He pointed out that his country is in constant touch with Rwanda to increase its forces in Darfur.
He stressed that his four visits to Khartoum and Darfur demonstrated to him that the “Khartoum government itself admitted that its former method of action was negative and probably self-destructive.” He added: “The agreement between north and south Sudan that ended 21 years of fighting and the Darfur peace agreement now lay down a new structure for politics in Sudan. The central government in Sudan controlled politics for centuries and this will now change.” He explained that the United States believes it is important to “remind the Khartoum government that it is in their interest to continue in this direction.” He said: “US policy does not depend on pressure and threat only but also on dialogue with the others over what is best for them and for others as well.” He added: “The Darfur peace agreement gives the Sudanese Government a chance to save 2 million of its people, win international acceptance, and establish peace in their state.” He stressed: “We are working for more normal relations with Sudan. But this needs implementation of the peace agreements and not just signing them.” He added: “The Sudanese Government knows that if it goes along this new route and ends some of the terrible disagreements, it will gain greater international acceptance, and not just from the United States.”
Among the thorny points between the United States and Sudan that could be resolved in future, Zoellick noted: “We do not have representation at the ambassadors’ level. Even though we cooperated with them on some antiterrorism cases, Sudan remains on the list of countries that support terror and there are still sanctions imposed on it.” He added: “We told the Khartoum Government that we want to work for more normal relations and want more constructive relations with them and that we also wish to help them. The United States gives Sudan $1.3 billion a year but most of this is spent on keeping people alive. Is it not better to spend it on rebuilding the country?”
He pointed to the recent consolidation of US-Libyan relations as an example of the possibility of restoring relations with Sudan and said: “Developments with Libya are a good example, even though we have some points of dispute with it.”
Regarding the Sudanese Government’s stand on the Darfur agreement, Zoellick — who was the mediator between it and the rebels — said: “Difficult discussions took place but we were pleased in the end by the government’s acceptance of the agreement.” He added that Mini Arkoi Minawi, leader of the Sudan Liberation Movement, “took a courageous step by accepting the Darfur agreement. Minawi’s signing was important and some independent tribes and some followers of Abd-al-Wahid Nur, leader and founder of the Sudan Liberation Movement, expressed their support. Everyone is seeking to persuade the two factions that have not signed the agreement yet but it is they who will make the decision in the end.”
He expressed his support for the AU’s stand toward the parties that did not sign the Darfur agreement and said: “The AU is encouraging the parties to sign. But should some factions not sign, the AU would confront with force any party that tries to weaken or foil the agreement and bring back the suffering of the Darfur people.” He praised the AU and said “its work compared to its predecessor the OAU is like comparing day to night. It is today carrying out important work by enthusiastic people. Yet despite this, their action is not enough and they need backing.” He asserted that the UN mission to Darfur “will not replace the AU but build on what it has done.” He then underlined the need “to conduct a dialogue inside Darfur. There are tribes that are not represented in the government or the rebel parties. We need to listen to these tribes and broaden the representation to include them.” He added: “Acceptance of the agreement has to be built. Many do not know its details and even some of the rebels themselves did not read the document of between 80 and 90 pages.”