MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
U.S. diplomats, the U.N. and others are trying to bring the two Sudans back from the brink of war. Fighting spilled over disputed borders this week, scuttling a planned summit. It was meant to resolve an issue that lingers from South Sudan's independence last summer. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on how international diplomats are trying to get that summit back on track and deal with a looming humanitarian crisis.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: To get a sense of just one part of the conflict, we begin with Aidan Hartley, who spent two weeks in Sudan's Nuba Mountains working on a series called "Unreported World" for Channel 4 television in the U.K. He says civilians are starving and desperate and under constant bombardment from Sudan's air force.
AIDAN HARTLEY: You can see the terror that it sows in the population. They've run from their villages and are living in caves in the mountains or they've dug foxholes. And we saw the effect of the daily bombing runs on the civilians.
KELEMEN: Hartley says he saw empty warehouses where U.N. agencies once stocked food for people in the region. Sudan won't give aid groups access to the Nuba Mountains. A Sudanese negotiator, Said al-Khatib, says there is a reason.
SAID AL-KHATIB: We understand that the NGOs want to make sure that aid gets to the needy. The government wants to make sure that aid gets to the needy and not to the fighting rebel groups.
KELEMEN: Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting rebels in the Nuba Mountains, which is just north of the disputed border between the two countries. U.S. diplomats have been trying to get both sides out of the business of aiding proxies. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describes the violence that spilled across the borders this week as deeply distressing, and had particular criticism for the north.
HILLARY CLINTON: We think that the weight of responsibility rests with Khartoum, because the use of heavy weaponry, bombing runs by planes and the like are certainly evidence of disproportionate force on the part of the government in Khartoum.
KELEMEN: Sudan's president, Omar al-Bashir, postponed plans to visit South Sudan for a crucial summit meeting. Clinton says she hopes the two leaders will meet to resolve, as she puts it, these very hard feelings.
CLINTON: You know, you don't make peace with your friends. There are decades of grievances that have to be overcome in order to work through these very challenging issues. But it is incumbent upon the leaders of both countries to attempt to do so.
KELEMEN: The irony is that the last round of talks seemed to be moving in the right direction, according to al-Khatib, the negotiator from Khartoum. Speaking at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, he says there was a new atmosphere in talks over oil sharing.
AL-KHATIB: The common interest is so clear for everyone to see. They are not going to benefit from their oil wealth without an agreement with us. We are not going to benefit from our infrastructure without being reasonable and coming to agreement. It's very clear that it is in the interest of both sides to agree quickly.
KELEMEN: South Sudan shut down its oil production this year and accuses Sudan of bombing an oil field. China, a key importer, is now playing an important diplomatic role. And that has meant a more united position from the U.N. Security Council, which is calling on the two Sudans to exercise maximum restraint. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.