September 1st, 2006 03:56 EST
On-the-Record Briefing on Sudan
MR. MCCORMACK: Good afternoon, everybody. What I would like to do today is start the briefing off with two guest briefers, Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer, our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs. She can talk to you a little bit about her recent trip to Sudan. She just returned yesterday to the United States. And then also Assistant Secretary Kristen Silverberg, our Assistant Secretary for International Organization Affairs, and she can talk to you a little bit about and answer your questions concerning the resolution that was just passed up in New York regarding Sudan.
So without further ado I`ll turn it over to them, and then afterwards we can return to any other questions you might have regarding other topics. So I`ll turn it over to our two guest briefers.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Thank you, Sean. And thank you all for being here. I`m going to brief a little on my trip to Sudan, from which I returned last night. I went to Khartoum to consult with the leadership of Sudan`s Government of National Unity on shared goals of ending the Darfur crisis. My specific mission was to consult the Government of National Unity on the UN Security Council resolution and as a result of that consultation we were able to make some small changes in the draft to help address some of the concerns they raised.
I also passed President Bush`s message to President Bashir about the need to end the Darfur crisis, including extending UNMIS`s mandate to Darfur, helping to implement the DPA, to protect innocent lives and to help with humanitarian assistance operations.
I also expressed concern that Sudan`s military plan for an offensive against the non-signatories, particularly the National Redemption Front, violates the N`djamena ceasefire agreement and the Darfur Peace Agreement and can lead to a further deterioration of the humanitarian situation on the ground, and to really push what many numerous UN Security Council resolutions have said, which is that there can be no military solution to the crisis in Darfur.
Contrary to many news reports, I did meet with Sudanese President Bashir on Tuesday, August 29th. He received me in his home and we had a very cordial meeting. I also had frank and constructive meetings with Sudan`s First Vice President Salva Kiir; Foreign Minister Lam Akol, who President Bashir said he will send now to Washington; also former foreign minister and now presidential advisor Mustafa Ismail; presidential advisor and head of the DPA negotiations for the government side Magzoub Khalifa; and senior assistant to the president and the number four in the presidency, Mini Minawi; as well as other humanitarian workers and Government of Sudan SPLM officials. I believe my trip was worthwhile, successful and will help us move towards a final resolution to the crisis in Darfur.
The passage today of the Security Council Resolution 1706, I believe, is the key to stop -- the key step to ultimately ending the crisis in Darfur, and the United States continues to support strengthening the African Union force in Darfur and having those troops become the core of a UN mission in Darfur.
I will now turn over to my colleague Kristen Silverberg, who really shepherded the passage of the UN Security Council resolution. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Thank you. We`re very pleased by the step the Council took today in passing this resolution. We think it lays the groundwork for an effective multilateral intervention in Sudan to help bring an end to the violence. And so we`ll now begin the hard work of working with DPKO and with all of our UN partners to begin to build this force of up to 17,000 military personnel and up to 3,000 civilian police with a substantial African element at the core of the mission. Significant logistical work has already taken place at DPKO and with the passage of the resolution we can begin finalizing those details and begin deployment as soon as possible.
And with that, we`re prepared to take questions.
QUESTION: Well, you like the resolution? I mean, you can`t -- it`s -- You`re paralyzed unless Sudan agrees to comply with it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: This resolution --
QUESTION: So what`s so positive about this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: I don`t think that`s accurate. This resolution invites Sudanese consent. Nothing requires Sudanese consent. That said, we fully expect and hope that the Government of Sudan, and really all of the parties, will assist in the cooperation of implementation of this agreement. Keep in mind that the resolution includes a Chapter 7 mandate to protect civilians and the significant thing about Chapter 7 is that while it`s frequently implemented with the cooperation of the host government, it doesn`t require the consent or cooperation of the host government. And so that was an essential U.S. red line in these negotiations. We held firm and we ultimately were able to persuade the Council to adopt the resolution on those terms.
QUESTION: Is there something that the press is not aware of so far as Sudan relenting in its opposition?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: Actually, Assistant Secretary Frazer can --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Sure. I`d like to answer that question as well as the first one. Also in this UN Security Council resolution you will see that it allows for the immediate strengthening of the African Union mission, and that is a point of convergence between the United States and the Government of Sudan. We all agree that the African Union force needs to be strengthened immediately and this is the will and intention of the African Union. And so having a Security Council resolution passed now was essential for that work to start.
It`s also important to note that the Government of Sudan, we`ve had extensive consultations with them since 2005 on this process of getting a peacekeeping mission in Darfur. And the Government of Sudan had said to us repeatedly that the passage of a Darfur Peace Agreement was a necessary condition for them to agree to a peacekeeping operation. That was important. And in fact, on March 10th the AU Peace and Security Council, it notes what we`ve known, which is that the Sudanese Government had stated that it was prepared to accept the deployment of a UN operation in Darfur after and as part of the conclusion of a peace agreement at the Abuja talks.
And so it was important during my trip to remind the government that it had already taken a position on this issue and had said that it would accept that peacekeeping mission and, you know, welcomed it after the conclusion of the DPA.
QUESTION: Sue Pleming from Reuters. While your mission may have been worthwhile, you didn`t achieve the goal of getting President Bashir to accept a UN force. You`ve said that you`re not going to fight your way in, so how are you going to convince him to accept a force? What makes you think that they`re going to accept it now when you went there with a message from President Bush and failed to get him to agree to it?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: My mission was as I outlined it, which was to pass President Bush`s message to President Bashir, to consult with the government to make them aware that the Security Council resolution was to pass imminently to try to get their input into it, as well as to express the concern that the buildup, the military buildup that was taking place in Darfur, would further undermine the humanitarian situation. So the purpose of my mission was not to get an answer from President Bashir. I was very clear at the outset that I didn`t indeed expect him to give me an answer after my meeting, that in fact what we needed as two governments was to continue this consultation. There is not going to be an easy or simple solution to Darfur. What`s important is to open lines of communication and clarity of communication, which is why I was asked personally to deliver the message to President Bashir and not to rely on public communication which is often quite distorted; people can`t hear what you specifically mean. And so that -- you know, I think that my mission succeeded in what I set out to accomplish.
QUESTION: When is the envoy going to be coming to Washington?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: We would hope that he would come -- President Bashir in his meeting just said that Lam Akol, his Foreign Minister, would be the envoy that he was sending to Washington. He didn`t say the time frame. I think, frankly, the Government of Sudan was a bit out of touch with the timeline for the passage of the Security Council resolution. When I went there I explained to them that it was a matter of days that the resolution was going to pass. And I think that actually caught them a bit unawares, but I would expect Lam Akol to comment. You know, I`m going to give him a call today to see if he can come in the next week or so. I think it should be sooner rather than later.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Do you still expect -- do you still see October 1 as the deadline for re-hatting the AU forces that are there?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: I believe the Security Council resolution reads -- the language that`s there -- is that the -- it asks and requests the Secretary General to begin strengthening the African Union force as soon as possible by assistance from UNMIS and no later than October 1st. And that it would transition to a UN operation on the expiration of the AMIS mission, which that expiration currently is October 1st. But the African Union Peace and Security Council is planning to meet in September. It says -- on the expiration of the AMIS mandate, which is October 1st, but in any event, no later than December 31st, which they may extend it till December 31st.
QUESTION: Tom Lane, ABC. The reports are that even as you were meeting with President Bashir the military buildup was already being used to attack villages. What does this say about how Khartoum intends to actually cooperate?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, I think it really is concerning. Not only was the build up taking place but you know that President Bashir had sent a letter to Kofi Annan stating that their preferred option for moving towards implementation of the DPA was to engage militarily against the National Redemption Front. In my consultations with the Government of Sudan officials I heard a plan that included working with Chad. You know that there was a recent accord with Chad to try to end its support of rebels, working with Eritrea to end its military assistance to the National Redemption Front. They were also intending to reach out to those non-signatories who seem to still want peace, that being Abdulwahid`s faction of the SLM, which you know has changed the leadership to Mr. Shafi, so reaching out to non-signatories that are still talking about how they can come onboard with the DPA. But then also militarily attacking the National Redemption Front forces that are unwilling and that continue to attack AU convoys, the civilian population.
What I made clear to them is that the expectation that they could have a discrete attack was very flawed and that they should have learned from the past that that is not possible. And that, in fact, their military build up has led some humanitarian workers and NGOs to start pulling back. It`s undermined access of humanitarian -- so just the fact they`re mobilizing into Darfur is undermining the humanitarian situation. So I think that the government hasn`t yet fully learned the lesson and it`s important for us as a world community to put pressure on them, which is also the importance of my going to Sudan at this time. And I think others will follow to say to the government very clearly, not only are you undermining your international obligations but it`s counterproductive to what you say the purpose is which is to facilitate the implementation of the DPA.
QUESTION: Ms. Frazer, as of this morning, apparently there`s reports that -- at the airport when journalists and others are arriving, including NGO workers, that laptops are being seized as well as cell phones. And Jan Egeland has said it`s again a bigger humanitarian disaster. Did you make that known to Umar al-Bashir in your talks and apparently the situation is still worsening?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: I didn`t on that particular issue of the, you know, seizing of laptops. I brought my own laptop in and no one tried to take it from me. You know, no one -- and you saw my reception. It wasn`t, you know, that warm when I first entered the airport. So I wasn`t aware of that taking place when I was there. What I did raise with him was the case of Paul, you know, Salopek, who is the Chicago Tribune journalist. I raised that issue with the Foreign Minister as well as the President.
President Bashir basically said that -- my point was he is a journalist; he`s not a spy. Because you know he`s -- one of the charges is espionage. President Bashir, his basic point was that bottom line, he would look into it as a humanitarian gesture he would look into the case and Foreign Minister Lam Akol also indicated that he felt that if it`s already in a justice system, which you know it is, that then the government could look into the case after that process completed itself. And so we did raise the question and I was given some assurances. The ChargÃ©, you know, is working on this case and we`re following it. Our Consular Office is meeting and checking on his welfare every single day.
QUESTION: And finally, are you --
MR. MCCORMACK: Two more, Joel. Let`s take two more questions.
MR. MCCORMACK: You, sir, and then --
QUESTION: Yeah. The clear position of President al-Bashir, as of this moment, he will not accept the multiforces in Sudan and he will fight them and he will lead the fight himself. And the language that I hear from you that some changes have happened, I don`t think Bashir will accept it. So it seem like you are talking two languages. Khartoum is talking one language and you are talking one language and the people in the Security Council are talking another language. So can you explain to us?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: This was the importance of him sending his own emissary here to the United States, so that he can talk directly to us, and for my going there. Unfortunately, I was quite stunned by the amount of misinformation in the newspapers, including on my own mission and at the time that I was meeting with President Bashir, it was being reported worldwide that I was on a plane leaving, not having had a meeting. That -- I`m saying that because I don`t have confidence anymore about what has been reported as public statements in the newspapers. And so I think it`s important for us to hear directly from President Bashir and his envoy here.
It is absolutely the case that the public dialogue has been very heated on this issue of the UN coming in, our multinational forces coming in. What the government said to me very clearly is they welcome any effort to support and to strengthen the African Union forces that are in Darfur. The resolution allows for that to occur. That`s very positive. They also were looking for funding mechanisms. They -- in all of my meetings, including with President Bashir, he welcomed and said that he appreciated and they said that they appreciated all of America`s assistance in getting the DPA signed as well as all of the humanitarian assistance we have been providing to the people of Darfur, to the people of southern Sudan and to the African Union mission.
Right now they are worried about the next important phase of this, is how would you fund the AU mission if it were to extend itself. And the government of Sudan is looking to the Arab League and to Arab countries to do this, as well as they`re saying that they can do it. But at the Brussels Donor Conference, the United States provided $116 million of the $220 million that was raised. No Arab country offered any pledge except for Qatar, which was $6.7 million with they had already pledged in March. And so the private -- the bottom line of what I`m trying to say to you is I`ve heard the public rhetoric and it`s important. That public rhetoric has an impact on policy, and we need that public rhetoric to be toned down. But what I`m most interested in is what we as two governments can do to solve this crisis working multilaterally with the United Nations and the AU to solve the crisis in Darfur. And the Security Council resolution is a key step in that process.
QUESTION: Are you optimistic that ultimately the Sudanese Government will accept without any conditions a UN force augmenting the African Union force and for it to be re-hatted? And if not, do you plan punitive actions because of their refusal to do this?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: I`m very confident that ultimately they will accept the decision of the African Union and the decision of the African Union is that there needs to be a transition from AMIS to a UN mission. And I`m absolutely confident that ultimately the government of Sudan will accept that decision. I think that there needs to be continued consultation. I would think it was very positive the consultation that took place between the two governments despite what was reported, and I`m looking forward to us finding the bridge that can help them to accept the decision of their own organization, the African Union.
QUESTION: One for Assistant Secretary Silverberg. Are you at all disappointed by the Russian abstention on this resolution? Were you expecting it? And what does it bode for the coming action on Iran?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY SILVERBERG: We would have liked Russian and Chinese and Qatari support, affirmative support for the resolution. We think their abstention was hard to explain in light of their previous endorsements of the concept of an expanded UN operation. We think it`s inexplicable in light of the very grave and serious and deteriorating security situation. So we would have liked affirmative support. But the important thing is that the Council acted and acted definitively, and now we can move forward in getting the peacekeeping troops deployed. Thank you.