Sudanese Diplomacy will not Relent in its Efforts to Develop Relations with South Sudan, Interview(2-2)

Sudanese diplomacy has been relentlessly fighting diplomatic battles abroad, according to the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Rahamatullah Osman, who affirmed that diplomacy is a continued and persistent activity. Ambassador Osman who was interviewed by Sudan Vision spoke about a range of crucial and complex issues including the need to develop relations with South Sudan taking into consideration mutual interest.

Q. Your Excellency, do you think good relations between Sudan and Europe can bring about balance in our relations with the US?

A. Of course, but I think EU-US relations are highly coordinated in some areas. But apparently Europe is now adopting its own policies and is enjoying a greater degree of independence on some issues. It does not agree with the US on everything. Unlike Europe, the United States is not a member of the ICC but the ICC voice is louder in the US than in Europe.

Q. What are the successes and shortcomings of Sudanese diplomacy during the year 2011 and what course it is going to follow in 2012? What kind of relations Sudan will have with Arab and African countries particularly with the countries blown by winds of changes such as Egypt, Libya and Tunis and with the countries facing domestic tension such as Syria and Yemen?

A. It is difficult to carry out stocktaking in diplomacy as it is a continued process. In 2011 we made important breakthrough in our relations with countries. In diplomacy, talk about success or shortcoming is out of the question. As I have mentioned dialogue with South Sudan is continuing despite tension and exchange of accusations. A delegation from the South is visiting the North next week despite the chill in relations. It is difficult to say precisely what are the successes and shortcomings. Sudan is passing through delicate phases, the CPA of 2005 and separation of South Sudan in 2011. We want to move to a new phase which is referred to by some political circles as the “Second Republic”. We are coping with the changes and developments. In the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we give attention to all internal issues because they have direct bearing on our relations with other countries.  We want to create a new image for Sudan in 2012. It is true that some issues persist but it is important to note that we have honoured an important obligation which was crucial for the world at large. That is the implementation of the CPA provisions particularly the conduct of South Sudan referendum. It is true that there are outstanding issues but that is the case with all the countries of the world where there are pending issues but in some cases they do not impact bilateral relations. May be our case is somehow different because we are coming out of a long war and there is lack of trust and issues are being raised in the media. The issue of border, for instance, is not an internal affair of Sudan. Before partition we had differences with some neighbouring countries and they continued to escalate and de-escalate but they did not adversely affect our relations. 

There are border differences among many countries in the world and in some cases they have continued for decades if not centuries. Such differences exit in Asia and America and between some Arab states but the issue of border did not impede progress of relations between these countries. I have told our brothers in South Sudan that it is true there are differences over the border but until they are addressed we should maintain normal relations. Our border differences with the South do not exceed 20% so we should continue efforts to address these issues and at the same time we should maintain good relations until they are resolved. The issue of border demarcation between Sudan and Ethiopia, for instance, has been hanging fire for decades but relations between the two countries are normal. We want the same thing to happen in the case of our relations with South Sudan. That is my response to your query with regard to South Sudan.

As regards the course of Sudanese diplomacy in 2012, I think despite the fact that the changes that have taken place in the Arab countries are internal; they will affect the situation in the region. The change in Libya in particular is positive as far as Sudan is concerned. The previous regimes in Libya and Egypt did not care to improve their relations with Sudan. The fall of Qaddafi regime had direct positive impact on the Darfur issue. We also did not enjoy good relations with Ben Ali regime in Tunis so we are hopeful that the change will be for the better and we build good relations, with our due respect to choice of these nations.

Q. Would you please update us on efforts to normalize relations with the US given upcoming American elections and the possibility that Sudanese issues may become part of election issue and anti-Sudan rhetoric is also likely to escalate?

A. This is normal. For decades, Sudan has been an election issue in America to win vote. They continue to harp on small issues until they become global. In a short span of time Darfur had snowballed and referred to the Security Council. It is unfortunate that they take advantage of suffering of other nations for domestic and global political gains. This is not only happening to Sudan. Internal issues of other nations have also been exploited by America.

As to normalization of relations with America, we observe patience in dealing with it. America is an important country and its role can impact our relations with some countries positively or negatively. It can also influence our relations with Europe, international and regional organizations and countries of the region. That is why improving relations with the US is our goal and we hope we will realize that goal. I can not say relations between Sudan and America are back on track but we can sense that the US has realized the need to reconsider its relations with Sudan. There are voices calling for that. We are not the only losers from US sanctions imposed on Sudan. I believe America itself has lost by its absence from vital and important areas in the Sudan. For that reason, there is presently some understanding and a breakthrough can take place. But unfortunately every time we take a step to improve relations, that will be spoilt by American elections which are contested every three years and then we start all over again. Darfur, Blue Nile and South Kordofan will now be part of elections issue in America after the issue of South Sudan has receded. The US has called on South Sudan to improve its relations with Sudan and to desist from supporting insurgency. That was officially stated by the United States which is a positive stance. We have been pointing out that the US pressures are always exercised on Sudan but this time the call was directed to the South. US call was also shared by other countries because South Sudan is now harbouring Darfur movements on the pretext that Sudan supports anti-South movements, a charge we have repeatedly dismissed. With regard to our charges against the South, we have evidence to substantiate what we said.

Our relations with Chad have improved after we have concluded that backing our oppositions would not be in the interest of the two countries. We have prevented any infiltration into Chad and in this way we have reached understandings that we would not interfere in our internal affairs. We hope that the Government of South Sudan would understand this and we are prepared to provide evidence to substantiate its support to anti-Khartoum groups.  Since two weeks we have heard that Darfur rebel movements have entered South Sudan so if the South is not backing them it should disarm them. So far we did not hear anything from the South and that will not improve relations.

Q. This leads us to a question that the Government of South Sudan has reportedly handed over its office in Cairo to the Kauda Alliance. What is your reaction to that and do you think the Sudanese opposition can relocate to Egypt?

A. I do not have comment because I have no knowledge about the source of the news. But I can say it will not be in the interest of any country to harbour the opposition of another country. If this happens then its results will be painful and basically I think there is no reason for that.

Q. What is your assessment of Sudan’s relations with US under Obama and what are the obstacles hindering their progress given the statement by Mr. Lyman to the effect that the US will not lift Sudan’s name from the list of countries harbouring terrorism?

A. I think no change has taken place whether under Obama or his predecessor. But there are limited indications that US companies might be allowed to deal with Sudan in certain sectors such as agriculture. I think the change that has taken place under Obama is that the White House itself begins to attach importance to the Sudan. This could be an indication for improved relationship but probably the time for that is not yet ripe for them in America. So far there is no positive result despite the fact that the US Department of State in its latest report said Sudan does not harbour terrorism. They do not have any indication or information that Sudan is a country harbouring terrorism. On the contrary, they admitted Sudan’s cooperation with them in their fight against terror. Sudan itself is suffering from terrorism in some way or the other. From Lyman statement we understand that so far they did not decide to lift Sudan name from the list of countries sponsoring terrorism.  I do not rule out that American elections are the reason because if Sudan is lifted from the list they will face the pressure groups and hard-line civil society organizations. It will be difficult for the US Administration to take that step given circumstances of the American elections even if there is a total conviction that it should be done. As such, I do not expect major change between Sudan and the US. Unfortunately, we have always been the victim of American elections.

Q. Do you think the issue of attracting investment part of the ministry’s strategy and if so what are the target countries for investment in the Sudan?

A. This is the focus of all the countries of the world. We do not target certain countries for investment in the Sudan. All our embassies abroad have been instructed to highlight investment opportunities in the Sudan. Investment is now private sector not public sector. We are opening up to the world for investment and we have no preference in this regard. We do not put all our eggs in one basket. It is better to diversify investors to avoid possible economic ups and downs.

Q. With regard to talks in Addis Ababa on Abyei, do you think they will be resumed on 17 January and do you expect breakthrough on this issue?

A. So far yes they will be resumed on 17 January. But it is difficult to talk about breakthrough. The important point is our commitment that they will take place between on 17 January. We are hopeful of a breakthrough as that will contribute toward the creation of a good relationship between Sudan and South Sudan.

Q. Have the Ethiopian peacekeepers completed their deployment in Abyei?

A. This question should be directed to the UN but according to my information a considerable number of peacekeepers have arrived and will proceed to the area. The total strength of Ethiopian peacekeepers is 4200 and now the number is well over three thousands, according to latest update.

By Mona Al-Bashir -Al-Sir Mukhtar, 09/01/2012