DAVID GREENE, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm David Greene.
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A ticking time bomb of enormous consequence - those words from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton describe mounting tension in Sudan. The south of the country is set to vote in January on whether or not to secede from the north, splitting the country in two. Secretary Clinton has called secession in this case inevitable.
GREENE: But the north, long dependent on the south's rich oil reserves, strongly opposes a split. And many Sudan watchers worry the votes could renew a decade's old civil war that killed more than two million people. The U.S. is now working to ease tension between the two sides to ensure that the January referendum proceeds on schedule. I spoke with the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, about the upcoming vote and whether Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir can be counted on to accept the results.
SUSAN RICE: Now, the United States, as part of that effort, has intensified our diplomacy. President Obama will participate next week at the U.N. General Assembly in a meeting with the vice president of Sudan and the president of south Sudan and the secretary general of the U.N. and other world leaders to make clear to the parties that they must uphold their commitments and that there will be a path towards support and improved relations with the United States and the international community if they do so, as well as end the conflict in Darfur. But if they fail to do so, they'll face consequences.
GREENE: We're talking about Africa's largest country splitting up. It has a history of violence. Is this not a major investment on President Obama's part? When, as you say, there's no guarantee of success and at a time when he has, I guess we could say, quite a bit on his foreign policy plate.
RICE: We don't have the luxury of ignoring complex problems in Africa or elsewhere and we won't.
GREENE: Ambassador Rice, you have long been a proponent of sticks when it comes to working out carrot and stick approaches to Sudan, what are the sticks here? I mean if President Bashir does not guide this country through a referendum peacefully, what are the consequences?
RICE: I'm a proponent of the United States and others in the international community using all the tools at our disposal to try to press the parties to the outcome that they committed to and that is essential for the region and for international peace and security. Those include incentives, as well as pressures. And we have outlined both. I don't think it's helpful to get into the potential range of unilateral or multilateral sanctions or pressures that we might employ. The parties know what they are.
GREENE: Can you say they will be strong? I mean, is President Bashir still considered under indictment for crimes against humanity? Will his government remain on the sponsor of terrorism list? I mean, are those sticks still there?
RICE: So there are no get-out-of-jail-free cards here. The government of Sudan and indeed the leadership of south Sudan have to meet a very clear set of benchmarks with regard to both the north/south agreement and to Darfur. And only in that context will there be benefits that accrue from the United States. And should they fail to, obviously, we've been clear that the consequences remain on the table.
GREENE: And, briefly, ambassador, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, when we talk about the possibility of failure here, said that even if the south votes to break away, there will still be intractable problems. And given the north's thirst for oil, which is predominantly in the south, Secretary Clinton said what are the deals that can possibly be made that will limit violence? That doesn't sound like a very optimistic assessment from this nation's top diplomat.
RICE: If they do, as with the birth of any new state, it is a very fragile moment. And we recognize that and that is why the president and the secretary and I and others are doing our utmost to press the parties to not only have these referenda, but prepare the future, whatever that may be and put in place the steps to ensure that the outcome is peaceful and that the people of Sudan can look to a future that's more prosperous and more democratic.
GREENE: We've been speaking to U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. Ambassador Rice, thanks for joining us.
RICE: Thank you.
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