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Clinton: Situation In Sudan A 'Ticking Time Bomb'

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Clinton: Situation In Sudan A 'Ticking Time Bomb'

Africa

Clinton: Situation In Sudan A 'Ticking Time Bomb'

Clinton: Situation In Sudan A 'Ticking Time Bomb'

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described tensions in Sudan between the North and the South as a "ticking time bomb of enormous consequence." Her comments come ahead of a referendum in which southern Sudanese are widely expected to approve independence for their oil-rich but deeply impoverished and infrastructure-poor region.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

A ticking time bomb, thats how Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today described the situation in Sudan. The country is heading for a referendum in January. It will likely lead to a split between the north and south and the birth of a new country. The U.S. is ramping up diplomatic efforts to make sure the split is peaceful and at the same time trying to cope with the separate conflict in Darfur.

NPRs Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Sudan was barely mentioned in a lengthy foreign policy speech by Clinton at the Council on Foreign Relations today, but when one analyst raised it during the questions, Clinton said she could use some advice.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): The situation in Darfur is dangerous, difficult, not stable, but the situation north/south is a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence.

KELEMEN: Under President Bush the U.S. helped negotiate an end to a 20-year civil war between the north and the south and that deal calls for a referendum on independence for the south. Clinton says the U.S. is now beefing up its diplomatic presence in southern Sudan and shes tapped a former ambassador to keep the peace process on track. Clinton calls it an all-hands-on-deck approach to pull off the referendum and prepare both sides for the likely outcome: An independent southern Sudan.

Sec. CLINTON: The reality is that this is going to be a very hard decision for the north to accept. And so, weve got to figure out some ways to make it worth their while to peacefully accept an independent south. And for the south to recognize that unless they want more years of warfare and no chance to build their own new state, theyve got to make some accomodations with the north as well. So thats what were looking for.

KELEMEN: The stepped up diplomacy is better late than never, says Roger Winter, who helped negotiate the north/south peace deal. He says the Obama administration has been in disarray over Sudan while lots of issues are festering, from disputes over oil sharing to the future of Abyei, an oil-rich area along the border.

Mr. ROGER WINTER: You have these things going on that require, I would argue, serious diplomacy. Diplomacy that isnt hoodwinked and I think thats what was happening for a while.

KELEMEN: Winter says Secretary Clinton and her team have to, quote, put their shoulder to the wheel to make sure the north allows the vote and accepts the outcome.

Mr. WINTER: In my experience, the Khartoum crowd gets practical when the pressure is on.

KELEMEN: Another activist, John Prendergast, co-author of the book The Enough Moment agrees, but says so far the Obama administration seems to be focused on incentives rather than pressure.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Co-author, The Enough Moment): By only introducing incentives, youre demonstrating that we dont really have the political will to introduce any kind of accountability for human rights abuses, for any kind of accountability for stealing the referendum or going back to war.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clintons spokesman says there is a risk of future conflict and thats one reason the secretary called officials in both north and south Sudan today.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

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