Briefing on Trip to SudanSenator John Danforth, Special Envoy For Peace In Sudan
Remarks at Special Briefing
November 27, 2001
MR. REEKER: Good afternoon. Welcome back, everyone, to the State Department briefing room. As advertised, it is our pleasure to have with us this afternoon our Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan, Senator John Danforth who, as you know, has recently been to Sudan, as well as a couple other stops in Africa.
We will let Senator Danforth make some remarks and then be happy to take your questions. Thank you.
SENATOR DANFORTH: Thank you very much. I thought it might be useful for me to give you some impressions of what I saw when I was in Sudan and then open the floor to you for whatever you would like to talk about.
To hear about the situation in Sudan is one thing; to see it first-hand is quite another. And I have been in some desperate places before, but Sudan is clearly -- especially the south -- clearly desperate, a tremendous amount of suffering. This has been a war that has been going on for many, many years, something like 40 out of the last 50 years, I'm told. Something like two million people have been killed.
To go into some of the very rural areas in the south of the country is to see people living in the most difficult possible conditions that people can live in. And there is a sense that is expressed by people that enough is enough. We hope that that is enough to carry the peace process to some positive destination.
On the other hand, one of the most interesting experiences I had was a meeting that was put together at the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. The meeting consisted of religious leaders, both Muslim and Christian. It was clear from attending that meeting that the Muslims were on one track and the Christians were on another. The Muslims took the position that this was not a religious problem, that there was freedom of religion. The Christians had a list of grievances and were very, very heated in expressing the fact that they believed that religiously and culturally they were being terribly, terribly mistreated.
That evening, I happened to be -- well, I was at a reception at the embassy and some of these same people who were at the clergy meeting were present. And it was very interesting, because I thought, gee, that meeting was so heated that it was a disaster. But in fact, that night, people who were both Muslims and Christians came up to me and said, "That was really a great meeting." I looked at them, and they said, "You know, we've never talked to each other before."
So it is two ships passing in the night as far as perceptions of the religious and cultural problems and the country are concerned, and I think that that is indicative of the fact that this is going to be a very difficult issue, a very difficult part of the world to deal with, because there is no more difficult issue than religion and human rights and culture. And that's right at the heart of what's happening.
As you know, and I think this has been pretty well printed, we presented four concrete ideas that we believed were tests of the prospects of peace in Sudan. Each of the four tests would serve humanitarian purposes, but each of them would be steps on the road to hopefully a total peace in that country. Each of the four depends on something that I think is extremely important, and that is verification, monitoring.
I told people that I met with in Sudan that I'm from Missouri, and our motto as a state is "Show me." There have been a lot of agreements, there have been a lot of arrangements over a long period of time in Sudan, and nothing has really come of them. The time has come for the sort of steps that people can see, and those were the proposals that we put forth.
We have a technical team that is going out to the area, leaving next Thursday, and then I am going to be going back on the 7th of January for about 10 days, and that's what the future looks like.
So I would like to entertain whatever questions you have.
QUESTION: Do you think -- two questions. The previous administration was barely on speaking terms with Khartoum. Do you think it's essential that you have some sort of relationship with Khartoum in order to influence the process?
The second question, is the IGAD process still alive?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I think -- if I'm going to be a special envoy for peace -- I think it is essential that I talk to the various sides, and that I don't go into the country as a person who is there to just render judgment, but as somebody who has some concrete ideas, and who is willing to do my best to try to move the process forward. With respect to IGAD, I took the position on the day that the President appointed me, that the United States did not have a separate peace plan of its own. We weren't going to be coming in from the outside as the know-it-alls.
My job, as I see it, is to be a catalyst, and being a catalyst is to be somebody who attempts to energize and build upon the various peace initiatives that have been tried out. And so I would encourage the IGAD participants, I would encourage the Egyptians, I would encourage anybody who is interested in peace to be very active.
QUESTION: Does that include the Libyans?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: Does that include the Libyans?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I would encourage myself anybody. Now, you know, I mean, I don't have any --
QUESTION: You mentioned Egypt, but Libya is the other half of that proposal.
SENATOR DANFORTH: Well, I was in -- I mentioned Egypt, because I was there. I was not in Tripoli, and don't have any plans of being there. (Laughter.) So I would leave it to the Egyptians to talk to the Libyans.
QUESTION: You said that you had made these proposals on -- I think they have to do with delivery of food and an ending of some of the bombing of civilian targets. Two questions. What provisions have you made for verification? To what extent is the U.S. Government providing you the resources so that you can verify as well?
SENATOR DANFORTH: We have made four general proposals, the details to be worked out with respect to verification. But in each of them, we recognize that monitoring is going to be crucial. It is going to be, I think, more difficult for some of the ideas than for others. The Nuba Mountains, which is the proposal which is really at the top of our agenda, the one we gave the most emphasis to, is a discrete area and therefore I think it is probably going to be easier with respect to monitoring than some of the others. The question of not bombing civilians would be probably more complex.
But with respect to the details of the monitoring, all of these are matters that are going to have to be worked out in the discussions that will begin next week.
QUESTION: Would you say how willing are they to have intrusive monitoring? How able are you in the absence of intrusive monitoring to monitor, nevertheless, or to be sure that you could be confident of what's going on?
SENATOR DANFORTH: First of all, how willing are they? We put forward four ideas and nobody threw us out the door. So these are matters that are open for discussion and we will be discussing them starting next week when the group goes out for the meetings with the various players.
How confident am I in the reliability of monitoring? I guess it would depend on which of the four proposals. I think if you're talking about a discrete geographical area, the Nuba Mountains or zone of tranquility, place of tranquility, time of tranquility, where immunizations are available at particular places, that would be, I would think -- not being a technical expert myself -- a more manageable situation than "don't bomb civilians." But it seems to me on the "don't bomb civilians," that too is something which, if you're creating an atmosphere where the world is going to be watching and there are going to be ways of receiving reports of bad actions and teams going in to review whether they occurred or not, it would seem to me that would not be unmanageable, it would just be probably a little more complex than a more limited geographical area.
QUESTION: How much of an impediment do you think not having a full-time U.S. diplomatic presence is to kind of stepping up your efforts? And are there any plans for a more full-time diplomatic presence, and how long do you think -- do you see us improving our ties, slowly working towards full diplomatic --
SENATOR DANFORTH: Well, we have a diplomatic presence. We have an embassy in Khartoum. It has a skeletal staff right now. The chargé is the principal officer there.
I'd say I have two answers, really, to your question on beefing it up. I mean, obviously, wherever it is, we need the kind of presence necessary to do the day-to-day grinding out of whatever agreements are negotiated.
But with respect to the overall relations, that's not my job. That's a different pay grade than mine.
QUESTION: If I could ask about the general relations, though, since you've just been there. What is your sense of how U.S.-Sudanese relations have changed since September 11th? We understand they have been very helpful on the intelligence front. And did you sense that they have expectations now that they could somehow get out from under, have a good relationship, come out of their isolation?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Well, I'm sure that the position of our government is that we appreciate any kind of cooperation with respect to counterterrorism. But I pointed out that the President appointed me to be his special envoy on September 6th, five days before the terrible events of the 11th. So, regardless of whatever help we are getting on the issue of terrorism, the issue of peace in Sudan, has separate value as far as the United States is concerned. It is not going to be possible for Sudan to have a close relationship with the United States so long as the view within the United States is that people are being oppressed.
QUESTION: You just said earlier that you plan to go back on January 7th. I think last week, you had indicated coming out of Sudan that you would not go back unless there was a positive response to the four-point proposal. Is there -- are you suggesting a change now?
SENATOR DANFORTH: No. No, it was always my intention to go back in early January to find out what the response is.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) go back at least once --
SENATOR DANFORTH: Yes. I mean, as far as I'm concerned, that's when we begin grading what the response is.
QUESTION: Excuse my ignorance, but could you just go over the four proposals, which I'm not familiar with, unfortunately, and could you give us a few more details about the technical team that is going out -- who exactly are they, and what is their mission?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I will point to one of them, who is in the room, and that is Jeff Millington, who is here at the State Department. Also, people from the State Department, people from AID who have been really excellent with respect to Sudan and so many other parts of the world. I have great regard for them.
The four proposals -- the first is, and really the one we always list first is, is Nuba Mountains. Nuba Mountains has been a beleaguered part of Sudan. It was an area that we visited. I think we were the first official group to go in from the United States into the Nuba Mountains. It has been an object of military action.
Right now, we are in the middle of four weeks of World Food Program food drops, and I saw one of those happening when I was there in the Nuba Mountains, and the object of our proposal is to make -- beyond the four-week period of time -- the Nuba Mountains available for humanitarian relief, without military action interfering with that relief.
The second proposal is to create zones and times of tranquility, so that for specific dates at specific places, those places could be available for humanitarian efforts, particularly immunizations.
The third is a cessation of bombing or shelling of civilian populations.
And the fourth is the cessation of the taking of abductees, the slave trade. Those are the four specific ideas.
QUESTION: Could you comment on whether or not you think it exacerbates the peace process when European and other outside oil interests continue to do business with Khartoum, despite their bombing campaigns? The previous Clinton Administration Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Susan Rice, gave a rather provocative press conference to this effect last year, I think.
What is your assessment? Do you think that this exacerbates the problem?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I think that the problem in Sudan is of such long standing that it is almost impossible to exacerbate it. This is something that has been going on for 18 years. It has been going on for something like 40 out of 50 years. There have been two million people who have been killed.
There is oil that has been discovered and is being developed. The development of that oil has caused the depopulation of certain areas in the south of Sudan, which is a part of the problem. No doubt about that. It is believed that the availability of oil revenues to the government would help the government fund the military operation against the south.
QUESTION: Do you believe that?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Well, I believe that if the government buys military hardware and uses the military hardware against people in the south, that would add to the military problems in the south.
On the other hand, part of the resolution of the situation in Sudan has to include the economic development of the country, and including the economic development of the south of Sudan. So some resolution of the oil issue is obviously going to be one of the long-term considerations that has to be addressed.
QUESTION: Would congressional passage of the House version of the Sudan Peace Act, would that exacerbate your work, the difficulties of your work?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I spent a lot of time in Congress, during which time I had very clear ideas as to exactly what Congress should be doing. But I've been out of it for seven years, and I am not weighing in on the Sudan Peace Act. I think there are people in the Administration who are weighing in, but I'm not part of the Administration; I'm just a special envoy.
QUESTION: What would -- the four proposals that you laid out appear to me, and maybe I'm wrong -- and please correct me if I am -- but they seem to demand a lot more from the government side than from the rebel side. Is that not true? That's one.
The second part of that is, did you get any kind of initial response from either the SPLA or Khartoum or whoever to these ideas that leads you to think that it's worthwhile sending the technical team?
And a second question, which is totally different from that, this -- an earlier candidate for this post withdrew from consideration because -- in part because of the kind of rabid fervor in this country over the issue. Have you found that, a similar problem that within this country people interested in the Sudan issue are a little over the top?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Over the top, I would not say that. I think that there is a lot of interest in the United States in Sudan. It is an interest in Sudan that predates the events of 9/11. So it is not simply what are we going to do about terrorism; it's, what is going to happen with Sudan. I think that is consistent with the values of our country, for Americans to be concerned when they hear about misery in other parts of the world.
QUESTION: I understand. Has it been a problem for you doing your job, as it was feared to be -- no? It has not? Okay. If it hasn't, that's fine.
SENATOR DANFORTH: My job isn't easy, so I don't see it as a problem.
QUESTION: What about the first bit, about the four points being -- appearing at me at least to be tilted more toward demands from the government rather than --
SENATOR DANFORTH: Well, I think Nuba Mountains would be aimed at both. I mean, there are combatants on both sides in the Nuba Mountains and what we are saying is, let the food go in, regardless of whether the area is controlled by the government or whether the area is controlled by the SPLA. I would view that as clearly equally applicable.
I think the zones of tranquility, times of tranquility, also -- I mean, just saying to both sides, stop the fighting in a particular area at a particular time.
Bombing, as far as I know, the SPLA doesn't have airplanes to drop bombs out of. So that would be, you know, aimed at whoever has the planes. The slave taking is being done by particular people at a particular time.
But we did not -- I am just going to say this to you. I did not sit down and say, how can we have some program that is weighted to one side or the other. Because, I mean, when you think about it, all of this, whether it is the taking of slaves, the bombing of people who are civilians, whether it is the Nuba Mountains or any other place where there's fighting going on, the victims are civilians. That's who the victims are. These four ideas are all geared to protecting noncombatants.
So anybody who is hurting noncombatants is being asked to stop hurting noncombatants.
QUESTION: Following up on what you said, can you say that the north -- we get a lot of information and it's pretty much anti-Khartoum. But does the north have any moral leg to stand on. I mean, you just named all these things, bombing civilians, slave taking, hurting innocent populations, limiting access for humanitarian workers, this seems to all be activities that are centered on the -- that are controlled by the government in Khartoum. Do they have any kind of case to make? Is there any -- can you sort of empathize with their position in any way?
SENATOR DANFORTH: My interest is in results.
QUESTION: Fair enough.
SENATOR DANFORTH: My interest is in results, not the Reverend Jack shows up and begins passing out the morality grades. My aim is to see if we can achieve some results. Really, back to the previous question on what's the response, I don't care what the verbal response is. There have been verbal responses for decades in Sudan. There have been promises, lists of promises. We have lists of the listers of promises. It goes on and on and on. One thing that to me is clear is that nobody believes anybody.
So I am saying, show me. I am saying, let's see some results. Maybe if we can have some results on these four areas, each of which has independent humanitarian value, but each of which would build toward peace, if we can have constructive results, real results in these four areas, then that would be something. But I am not interested in people's moral justifications for this or that. Just stop killing people.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you mentioned that Eli just pointed to also, do involve practices that under international law are treated as either war crimes, as crimes against humanity, or even as genocide. Now, did you -- I'm sure you're aware of the meaning of those terms; they are now pretty well common parlance -- did you in any way discuss it with the Sudanese leadership in those terms?
SENATOR DANFORTH: What I discussed with the Sudanese leadership and with the SPLA/M was simply this: You now have a situation in this country which has been going on for decades. There is no end in sight. That can accomplish nothing for anybody. Let's see if we can get out of this rut, and let's get out of the rut by taking four specific steps. That's what I discussed with them.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that people may look at this position as sort of equivocating between one side, which is clearly an aggressor, and another side, which is appears to be largely the victim, and sort of drawing a moral equivalence between the two by just simply focusing on a peace process?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I don't think I'm drawing a moral equivalence between the two. I don't think I'm doing that. I'm certainly not intending to do that. I'm not setting myself up as saying one side is morally equivalent or not morally equivalent. What I'm saying is that I have a specific job to do, and the specific job is to see if there is anything constructive that the United States can do to try to end this terrible suffering.
The morality to me is very simple, and that is end the suffering. End the killing. End the bombing. End the slave taking. End the fighting. And hopefully build towards some sort of resolution so that the four steps are more than just passing, but so that they lead to some sort of system where people can live together. That's what I'm after.
QUESTION: When you say, at highest levels, Bashir and Garang?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Sorry?
QUESTION: Did you meet with both Bashir and Garang?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Yes, I did. Yes.
QUESTION: Did the leadership you met with indicate to you anything they'd like to see if they were to make steps forward on the four ideas? Did they talk about things they want from the U.S.?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Well, bear in mind that my meetings were preliminary, and the group that is going out next week is going to be dealing with much more detail. But even in the general talks that we had were there any concerns that were raised. Yes, I mean, for example, in the Nuba Mountains will -- if there was a cessation of hostility, would that protect the oil pipeline? I mean, that's one specific.
So, sure, I mean, there are specifics. Would there be -- if there was a cessation of fighting in Point A, would that simply mean that combatants in Point A would all move to Point B and start fighting there? That was one of the types of concerns that would have to be addressed.
QUESTION: Did anybody address -- did you hear the term in any location about "jihad"? Did perhaps the religious leaders raise it? Because apparently some Sudanese leaders are still speaking in terms of jihad against the south.
SENATOR DANFORTH: As I said, one of the most interesting meetings that I had was the meeting of clerics, both Muslim and Christian. The Muslims were saying there is no discrimination, everybody can practice religion, and the Christians were saying you declared a jihad, and you took our buildings, and you wouldn't allow us to put roofs on our churches. They had a list of complaints.
One of the things that was very clear to me is that at least the verbal presentation of one side had nothing at all to do with the complaints of the other side.
QUESTION: I've got two questions. Since you come from a country that has a strong Christian lobby supporting the south, were you perceived in Khartoum as more an agent for the south than a neutral catalyst?
And my second question, do you see at some point down the road, if your efforts are successful, in the four points that you've raised, presenting some kind of oil sharing -- sharing of oil resources proposal to the two sides?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Nobody, while I was making this trip and talking to numerous people, expressed any reservations about the U.S. being there, participating. Nobody did. Everybody stated that they welcomed the efforts of the United States and believed that what we were doing was timely.
With respect to the issue of oil revenues, it seems to me that once you get beyond the four points and start looking ahead to what is going to be the future of that country, if it's going to be a country at peace, then you get into the issues of development, you get into the issues of what's to be done with oil revenue and how it's going to be used for constructive purposes, which is a long way from where we are right now. But I think it's something that some people should start thinking about, hopefully people in Sudan.
QUESTION: Did you notice any difference in attitudes or any actually tangible differences when sanctions were lifted? I believe you were there after that happened in September.
SENATOR DANFORTH: I was there after that happened, yes.
QUESTION: Right, right. So did you feel that even though you hadn't been there before, when the sanctions were on, did you get the feeling that there was more good will, more attention to doing what the United States and the international community wants them to do?
SENATOR DANFORTH: It's hard for me to tell you, because I didn't -- I don't know the before and after. All I can say is that I thought our presence there was welcomed by everybody.
QUESTION: Did anyone talk about how important that was to them that this had been done?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I don't remember that coming up, but I don't know.
QUESTION: The technical team goes out next week. Tell us a bit about what you plan to do in the next five weeks. What do you anticipate doing on this issue? And have you met with President Bush, had a conversation with him, or other senior people in the Administration?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Yes.
QUESTION: And their thoughts on this? And other plans you might have or meetings with allied governments?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Yes. Well, we have taken the position from day one in this effort that the United States is not the know-it-all, and that the job of the United States is to try to be helpful and try to be catalytic and try to be encouraging of what others are doing, and to try to have maximum communications.
So I plan, in mid-December, to go to Europe for about three or four days to meet with various Europeans and to brief them on what we are doing, and to tell them about how we are hoping that the world is going to be speaking with one voice. So that is what I plan to be doing.
SENATOR DANFORTH: We're working on that.
QUESTION: Is that on your way back?
SENATOR DANFORTH: No, that would be a trip in December to Europe, and then I would go in January to the region.
QUESTION: Did you detect, in what the Sudanese leadership was telling you, that the U.S. response to 9/11 has put some fear into their own hearts because, obviously, Sudan was once the haven for Usama bin Laden?
And secondly, did you get a -- can you give us any sense of just exactly what the Sudanese Government has done to cooperate with the U.S.?
SENATOR DANFORTH: I can't, because the counterterrorism effort isn't mine. So I don't know. I mean, I'm told that they have been cooperative. Now, whether they have been 100 percent cooperative or 50 percent cooperative, I wouldn't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
QUESTION: The first part, which was does -- what impact do you think the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan has had on the Sudanese as they look to your mission, for one thing?
SENATOR DANFORTH: Well, that would be purely speculative on my part, but I would speculate that I believe that the response of the U.S. to the terrorist attack, and the response that we have had in Afghanistan, is a very clear message that the United States is keyed in to the problems of the world.
But, again, I want to tell you that my appointment as special envoy preceded by five days the events of 9/11.
QUESTION: But for some time Sudan has been a state sponsor of terrorism. Did anyone in your -- I realize you weren't going there to talk about that issue, but did anyone from -- in the government say, hey, it would be really nice if we could get off this list, that might help us out? Did that ever come up?
SENATOR DANFORTH: No.
QUESTION: Never came up?
SENATOR DANFORTH: No.
QUESTION: Did they say that their efforts to cooperate on the peace process are hampered in any way by the kind of requirements from the U.S. to help with the war against terrorism, though?
SENATOR DANFORTH: No.
QUESTION: I mean, did they -- no roadblock?
SENATOR DANFORTH: No.
QUESTION: Thank you.
SENATOR DANFORTH: Thanks.