Conflict in South Sudan

1:00 P.M. EDT


MODERATOR: Okay. Welcome to the New York Foreign Press Center. This is an on-the-record briefing today. We are honored to have with us the Special Envoy to Sudan and South Sudan Ambassador Donald Booth. We also are lucky to have with us today the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Todd Haskell, who will take questions at the end of this briefing on the Young African Leaders Initiative, YALI, which is rolling out this year today. And that’s all I’ll say for now. I’d like to please welcome Ambassador Donald Booth. (Applause.)

AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Okay. Well, thank you. A pleasure to be here again, UNGA week in New York. Let me just say a few words as an introduction and happy to take questions.

On South Sudan, as you may be aware, there was a high-level event on South Sudan that the Secretary-General hosted on Tuesday morning. And the thrust of that meeting and the thrust of what the United States has been pushing is for forward movement on implementation of the peace agreement that was signed by the parties in late August. Since the signing of the peace agreement by the opposition and group of former detainees on the 17th of August and by the government on the 26th of August, both armed groups have ratified the agreement through their legislative assemblies. They have issued orders for a cessation of hostilities for a ceasefire, and they have engaged in a workshop on security issues in Addis Ababa under the aegis of the IGAD mediation team. There has been progress made in that regard.

However, there was an interlude of an increase in fighting that happened shortly after the order for the ceasefire went out. The United States acted in the Security Council to propose sanctioning those generals that we felt were most responsible for that uptick in fighting. We believe that that action helped to contribute to the diminution of fighting that occurred a few days after that action was initiated.

At this point, the focus really needs to be on getting stood up the mechanisms foreseen in the peace agreement, the most critical being that of the joint monitoring and evaluation committee, the JMEC. The IGAD is supposed to appoint the chairman of the JMEC. We are hoping that that might happen this week. We, again, continue to urge IGAD to move forward and do that as quickly as possible. The JMEC will, in effect, become the locus for moving forward the implementation process. It will then be responsible for the monitoring mechanism, which will oversee the ceasefire and the security arrangements. It will take over from IGAD’s monitoring and verification mechanism.

There are a number of other activities that need to be undertaken. The peace agreement itself needs to be reconciled into the existing South Sudanese constitution through the national constitutional amendment commission. And the parties also need to get together and begin the actual preparations for the formation of the cabinet of the transitional government.

The security arrangements – there is the need to move forward now on the separation of forces that was discussed at the Addis workshop, the cantonment of forces by both sides, and the establishment of the joint military command center and a joint operation center that would also coordinate with the UN as well.

All of these things need to move forward. We continue to press the parties to do so. We will be continuing to engage the South Sudanese parties on that and as well as continuing to engage with the UN Mission in South Sudan on the role that they can play. We are trying to move forward a resolution to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in South Sudan and hope to be – that that will be accomplished in the next few days.

So that’s really the focus on South Sudan – I can just repeat it one more time – implementing the peace agreement. That is the focus that we have.

On Sudan, which is the other account that I have, I have – about a month ago did a visit to Khartoum, my first visit with engaging the government there since I had become envoy. It followed on a visit that we had by then Professor Ghandour, now Foreign Minister Ghandour, to Washington in February, where we were trying to resume the dialogue and the engagement necessary to find a way to address the issues of concern to both of our countries and to address the concerns in the bilateral relationship.

From the U.S. perspective, the key message remains that Sudan needs to stop fighting its people, stop the wars in Darfur and the Two Areas and find a way to move forward toward a political accommodation that will enable Sudan, which is a diverse country, to live at peace with itself. So that is the message we continue to press on that. We, again, will be engaging the Sudanese here on that, trying to advance that agenda.

So let me leave it at that and take questions from you.

QUESTION: Vasco de Jesus, VascoPress Comunicacoes, Brazil. I’m curious to know, you mention about the need for the constitution to be amended to accept the peace agreement. And how far are we from that happening, if you have – you can help me? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BOOTH: The National Legislative Assembly has already ratified the peace agreement. So now this is really a technical legal matter of areas where the peace agreement may not be consistent with the existing constitution. For example, the peace agreement calls for the creation of the position of first vice president. It also calls for an expansion of the legislative assembly. So those are the types of issues that, for legal purposes, would need to be reconciled with the existing constitution. The national constitutional amendment commission – the parties have nominated their representatives to that, but it has not actually sat down to meet. But it should be a relatively straightforward part of the implementation of the agreement.

QUESTION: I had a couple questions. My name is Ashish Pradhan. I’m from International Crisis Group. On South Sudan, I was wondering, you mentioned the JMEC chair position that hasn’t been filled yet. I was wondering your views on why that hasn’t happened.

And on Sudan, you mentioned that the issue of – yeah, on the issue of the national dialogue, your views on that, and why that has or hasn’t been taken forward.

AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Well, on the JMEC chair, the IGAD heads of state need to discuss that and come to an agreement on the candidate, because the JMEC, in the first instance, will report to IGAD. It will also – the chair has the ability under the peace agreement to report also to the African Union Peace and Security Council and to the chairperson of the African Union as well as to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and to the Security Council of the United Nations. But the first line of reporting is to be guarantors of the agreement and the guarantors are the other states of IGAD. So as soon as the heads of state have finished their consultations and agree on that candidate, I’m sure they will move forward. Again, we urge them to do that as quickly as possible.

I did not actually mention the national dialogue, but it is something that when President Bashir first announced the idea of a national dialogue in January of 2014, he announced a dialogue that would be inclusive, that would include the armed as well as unarmed opposition, and would address the issues of peace, the economy, and national identity. And there was a welcoming of such a broad, inclusive national dialogue by the United States and by many other international partners. Because the – as President Mbeki, who has now long headed the African Union’s efforts to not only to resolve outstanding issues between Sudan and South Sudan but also to try to find a way to resolve the conflicts in Sudan – one statement he said that there’s not a Darfur problem in Sudan, there’s a Sudan problem in Darfur. And by that he meant that it’s the way that Sudan has been governed basically since independence with a very centralized focus that has resulted in various elements of population in the periphery of the country feeling disenfranchised, feeling not to be fully participating in the political life of the country.

As you know, the civil war – the Anyanya I and Anyanya II that resulted ultimately in self-determination and independence for South Sudan – had gone on for the better part of 50 years, basically since independence with only about a 11-year break between 1972 and 1983. So this idea of not just addressing cessation of hostilities from one conflict and then another conflict, but to truly get at the underlying causes of those conflicts. And so the national dialogue was foreseen by many South Sudanese, including by the armed opposition, as a possible way forward on that.

Unfortunately, the conditions for moving forward on that were not met. The idea of a pre-dialogue to discuss how to move forward on a dialogue that would have raised the confidence particularly of the opposition to participate in this was not attended by the government when President Mbeki tried to convene it in March this year.

So after the elections, the government announced that they would once again resume this national dialogue. They’re talking about doing it this month, October. But again, there have been no actions taken that would create the conditions to bring in particularly the armed opposition but also many of the unarmed opposition into this dialogue at this point. So we continue to encourage the government in Sudan to look at creating a conducive environment if it’s to move forward on this.

But our focus right now is encouraging both the government, which recently announced that it would undertake a two-month cessation of hostilities, and the armed opposition, the Sudan Revolutionary Front, which recently indicated a willingness to undertake a six-month cessation of hostilities, just to get those – the government and the opposition to move forward on actually changing things on the ground, actually to stop the fighting, give that opening for negotiations to begin. And that, I think, would be one of the best confidence-building measures that could occur, which is if there’s an absence of fighting, then the confidence to be able to go in and talk will be vastly increased.

QUESTION: Our VOA correspondent for Sudan is not here today but submitted a question; I’m going to read that aloud: “The State Department yesterday congratulated the AU Peace and Security Commission for releasing the report on human rights violations committed during the conflict in South Sudan. The last time the AU said it was releasing the report, it was given only to the Government of South Sudan, and after some militating, to the opposition. Has the report been made available to the public this time around if it has been released? And if it has been published, is the United States satisfied that this is, indeed, a full report into what happened in South Sudan? If not, do we know when it will be available?” Thank you.

AMBASSADOR BOOTH: Well, we’ve welcomed the decision of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council, which met at summit-level here last Saturday to release the report. As far as I’m aware, at this very moment we have actually seen a copy of it, but they have committed that it will be released in the very near future. So we look forward to that. We obviously would like to read it – we have not seen it to date – and we’ll then decide, obviously, what we think of it. We can’t prejudge what we haven’t read.

But we believe that the report – it covers a crucial period of the conflict in South Sudan and will contribute, I think, to the work of accountability and reconciliation that is foreseen in the peace agreement, both to contribute to the work of the National Commission for Healing and Reconciliation and to the Hybrid Court which the peace agreement called for the African Union to work with Sudan to establish.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Are there any other questions?

QUESTION: Ambassador Booth, a quick question. To the many people in South Sudan who may feel apathetic towards the peace process, do you have any words to the people of South Sudan regarding U.S. support and international support to the people?

AMBASSADOR BOOTH: The U.S. commitment has been very consistent and very strong to the people of South Sudan as they have endured this totally unnecessary and manmade conflict which has inflicted so much pain and suffering and death on many of them, created a humanitarian crisis in the country. We have been the leading donor. We have contributed over $1.3 billion of humanitarian assistance. We’ve also maintained some of our development activities in areas such as health, education, and agriculture, which directly benefit people.

So the United States has stood with the people of South Sudan. We stood with them during their long fight to achieve self-determination and independence, and we’ve stood with them through this conflict and we will continue to stand with the people of South Sudan and with those of their leaders who will commit themselves to making this peace agreement work. It’s absolutely essential that we have the leadership of South Sudan committed to this peace agreement. That really is going to be the peace dividend for the people of South Sudan. It’s going to be the absence of fighting and being able to move forward once again to try to move on development of the country and to create that sense of nationhood so that, again, that diverse country can begin to move forward in peace and tranquility.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador.


MODERATOR: (Inaudible) YALI. Again, we have Deputy Assistant Secretary Todd Haskell here to announce the rollout of the Young African Leaders Initiative. Thank you.

MR HASKELL: Thanks very much. I mean, this is a very important day for us and we’re very excited at the State Department about it. Today online is the – for the third time is the application for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which is the flagship program of President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative. Some of you might recall that this program online has attracted literally tens of thousands of applicants over the last couple of years, and this year I think we’re going to do even better. There’s tremendous excitement about it.

The President has declared at the African Leaders Summit last year that the number of people participating in the Mandela Washington Fellowship this year would double from 500 as it was the last two years to a thousand this year, so it’s a much larger group. And as President Obama has said, we’ve had many initiatives in Africa, many efforts, and some of them certainly cost a lot more than YALI. But the President has said that this is, he believes, his most important legacy in our relationship with Africa and to the outreach to young Africans.

So what is it and where does it come from? I think we have to – President Obama laid out his vision for this that there is a tremendous youth bulge in Africa and that we, the United States, needed to reach out to young people in Africa. So in order to do that, he has established a series of different initiatives within the Young African Leadership Initiative, but the flagship program is, again, the Mandela Washington Fellowship, which is going online today and people are beginning to apply.

Those selected to participate in the fellowship will be brought to the United States next summer for six weeks of academic study. They’ll be participating in America’s finest universities. These are people between the ages of 25 and 35. And at the end of their academic period, they’ll come to Washington and they’ll actually have a summit with, among others, President Obama, who will spend time with the leaders. Then when they get back to Africa and their home countries, they’ll be eligible for numerous grants, professional development opportunities, possibilities of meeting with senior U.S. officials visiting the region, the ability to travel in the region and meet with other fellows.

And I’ve actually just come back from the region traveling through, and as I always do whenever I travel in the region – and the same is frankly true of Secretary Kerry, it’s true of Assistant Secretary Thomas-Greenfield, and it’s true of the President on his last trip – we always make an effort to meet with the YALI fellows in the countries we visit to see how they’re doing.

And it’s really an amazing and inspiring group. When I was just there I talked to folks who were starting businesses that were employing other young people, acting as mentors for other young people. They’ve formed NGOs to fight gender violence. I would note that in the Ebola-affected countries at the center of the U.S. (inaudible) efforts to battle Ebola, the YALI fellows stepped up in each of those three countries and played really important roles. So this is the beginning, I think, of an outreach by the U.S. Government to the young people of Africa, who, frankly, are the majority of Africans right now, and an effort to establish a channel of communication with which we can work to them and bring about positive change in the future in Africa.

So I would urge young people across Africa. The website is YALI, Go there. Please start your application. The application closes November 11th. This is – as so many of the fellows have told me, this is a life-changing opportunity, the opportunity to attend our finest university, meet with senior U.S. Government officials, have the opportunity to apply for different grants and professional development opportunities, a real opportunity to move forward and take your country and your continent with you in partnership with the United States.

Thank you very much. I am happy to take any questions if you have them. Okay.

QUESTION: I’m Vasco de Jesus with Press Communications Brazil. It is great to hear and I commend the American Government for this initiative. And I’m wondering, has the United States done anything such as big and revolutionary towards the youth anywhere else?

MR HASKELL: In fact, there has been such a tremendous response to YALI – which was the Young African Leadership Initiative – the White House, in conjunction with the State Department and USAID, have actually looked at doing it in other places. So we actually have a program, and I’m sorry if I’m going to go all acronym on you, but there is – for Southeast Asia we have YSEALI now, which is starting out, but it’s the Young Southeast Asian Leadership Initiative. And then actually in Latin America as well we are looking at the somewhat unfortunate acronym, YLAI, which is, I believe, Y-L-A-I, Young Latin American Initiative, yes? Those – YALI is definitely the leader because it’s been going for three years, and frankly, has – the President has pushed a lot of resources. But we’re looking at youth outreach around the world. It’s definitely – I mean, it’s almost a cliche. But obviously the youth are our future, and it’s where our relationships have to be.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.


# # #