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 You are in: Bureaus/Offices Reporting Directly to the Secretary > Deputy Secretary of State > Former Deputy Secretaries of State > Former Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick > Remarks > 2006

Conference Call With Reporters on Sudan Peace Talks

Robert B. Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State
Abuja, Nigeria
May 2, 2006

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: We've got some journalists here in the room with me, so why don't I just make a few opening comments and then, if you ask a question, if I've repeated it, it's so that people here also have the benefit of this.

Let me just -- it's about 9:35 here now, and so shortly after we came in this morning, I and my colleagues met with Salim Salim, the African Union mediator. And then we were joined by Hilary Benn, the UK Development Minister, and some of the other international partners. There's also some people here from the EU and from Canada and others.

And we discussed the overall situation. I wanted to get Salim's assessment. And then I proceeded to have a series of meetings, first with Minni Minnawi and his commanders, then Abdulwahid and his team, then Khalil Ibrahim of JEM and his colleagues, and then I met the government's representative, Magzoub, and their team. And then I followed up with a meeting with Salim and Benn and some of the international partners again, including the AU mediation team.

What I tried to do in those meetings was to explain why the President had asked me to come, to listen to their primary concerns, but through the course of the discussion to try to help focus them on key points, emphasizing that our time was short and we needed to try to close. The topics are in the four categories that I think you all know of the security, power sharing, wealth sharing and the Darfur-Darfur dialogue.

All the parties say that they want to reach an agreement and you get a mix between their private and public statements about whether they're willing to focus or not. So there have been some statements released by some of the parties that are sort of more general in the sense of things that they -- their demands. The point at the meetings is to try to listen closely and focus on the core items.

President Obasanjo of Nigeria is hosting a meeting tomorrow of a number of African Union leaders and so he suggested to Salim that it might be useful to extend our discussions based on the dialogues of today. That's their announcement to make so I will kind of leave that to them, which will be done before midnight. I think there's a plenary session at 11 p.m. And just for your sort of planning purposes, I'm staying here overnight and hope to get back at this in the morning.

So that's the essence of it and I'd be happy to take some questions.

QUESTION: Do you -- this is Joel Brinkley. Do you see any sign that in private the rebels are less dogmatic than they seem to be in public?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: The question, for all of you, was do I see any sign in private that the rebels are less dogmatic than they are in public.

Yes, although you have different groups here and they're taking different approaches. And so with some I've been able to get some particular focus on some security topics that I think are very important. With others, Joel, I tried to use my follow-up to their opening comments as a way of ascertaining what is most important in respective areas. So it's really a mixture by group, but the answer is yes, but not for all.

QUESTION: This is Glenn Kessler. Do you have any sense that the government is going to send someone back to the talks at a senior level, like Taha?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I have been told that Magzoub, who heads the delegation here, has the authority to make decisions. I also have been told that anytime that I need to reach Taha, or for that matter Bashir, that I can do so. So I'm not concerned at this point about the government's representation. As you know, they've accepted the draft text. The challenge now is to ascertain whether there are some core items that could bring the movements along and see whether the government would be able to agree with that. But you know, that's of 9:35 tonight. It may change tomorrow.

QUESTION: Well, as you know, President Bush called on Bashir to return Taha or some (inaudible) back to Abuja.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Yeah, I think what you have on the sense of the government is that (a) since they felt they agreed, and in the case of Taha, was here some three or more weeks, that they felt it was important for the parties that didn't agree to identify what are the primary causes or issues that they want to address. That's what I hope the discussions today have sharpened. So I think that the sense in the government is they told me three or four times that they want to reach an agreement, but obviously -- and not surprisingly -- they want to see what specifics we and the AU and others in the process will bring to their attention from our discussions with the movements.

QUESTION: So what would you say -- have you identified exactly these primary issues that they want to address? Do you feel confident you know what those -- that it's been narrowed enough that you can move ahead on that?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: I'm sorry, I forgot to tell the questions as you went along to the folks that are out here. The question was have I exactly identified -- I'm sorry, could you --

QUESTION: Yeah. What are the core issues? Have you been able to narrow it?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Yeah, I hesitate only because of the use of the word "exactly." Nothing is exact in this. (Laughter.)

I think I have a sense of, you know, relative importance of topics and I have a sense of some topics that I think are going to be fundamental to bringing along some of the movements. There are some that there are really a collection of issues that relate to a general concern, and so that's the process of kind of sharpening that I and the other international partners are trying to do in our discussions with the various movements. But clearly, as I've said all along, the security topic is going to be very important and, you know, there's the reality that the text makes some requirements -- for example, sort of demobilizing the Janjaweed -- and it also has some requirements in terms of the movementís forces.

One of the (inaudible) that I think could help with confidence is if we can be a little bit more specific on the actions that would support that and the sequence. But you know, please recognize, you know, I've been here and trying to listen to things and collect it and so I'm trying to focus it. And we will, if President Obasanjo continues (inaudible) we will try to pursue some of those priorities tomorrow.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

QUESTION: I have one more, if I may.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Okay. Well, why don't you ask one and then we'll let some people here ask a couple questions.

QUESTION: All right. The indications from there seem to be that the AU does not want to open up the agreement and the rebels, you know, they have their concerns and it sounds as if they're being told, "This is it, you have to accept it as it is." Is that inaccurate?

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: The question was that the impression or indications were that the AU didn't want to open up the agreement and so the rebels were being told to take it as it is.

I think it would be more accurate, Joel, to say that, you know, the African Union has gone through an excruciating process of trying to listen to the parties and it's not a normal negotiating process where people present X and they refine them and (inaudible) them on others. It tends to be a little bit more discursive. If you look at some of the documents from these (inaudible) parties.

So the point that I emphasized in my opening comments to everyone is that -- the respect we have for the AU mission. I think they've done a tremendous job and I think they're well on their way to having something that should work for everybody, but we don't have all the movements on yet, so that's why in both the start of the day and at the end of the day I and Hilary Benn shared our impression with Salim and his team, in part to gain from their experience and see where we thought there may be some opportunity to close differences.

So I donít think, Joel Ė (inaudible) asked the question -- that if there's a that the African Union mediators are averse to changes, we just have to make sure we bring everybody along in the process.


DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: How about if we take one or two from the people here and then, if you don't mind, I just need to do a little bit more homework and get some sleep.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: The question was, given that the movements feel they're being sort of dragged to this agreement which they may not like, how did that, what does that suggest for possible implementation?

I don't Ė I don't (inaudible) the movements donít like the agreement. My -- everyone that I talked to said they wanted to reach an agreement. I think a number of them continue to restate the positions that they have had and as opposed to trying to kind of find the ground between the positions. That's what Salim Salim is trying to do and it's what we're trying to define. So obviously (inaudible) itís up to them to decide with the movements.

With every group I've also had a sense that they realize that, you know, the underpinnings of this are the people of Darfur. Everybody is sensitive to the fact that, you know, while these discussions drag on, people are in terrible conditions and people continue to suffer and so the lack of agreement is not going to be good for the people that they supposedly represent.

So I think you have different phenomenon. I think, you know, some people feel this is the way to bargain for something. Some have a concern that they're articulating and they're having a challenge in terms of how to translate it into an agreement. And not surprisingly, after the years of terrible bloodletting, there's not a great deal of trust. And so you're trying to help overcome trust in the course of discussions.

Now, I think what your question also suggests to me, as I've said with my colleagues (inaudible) the press back home, is that if we are fortunate enough to reach an agreement, one should see that as a very important step but not the final step. It would have to be complemented by an improved security situation with AMIS (inaudible) UN peacekeeping forces. It's going to need some very important development assistance to move this process forward. And by I think the backing of the African Union (inaudible) the Darfur-Darfur dialogue, which will be very important, will be significant, so that you can have follow-through on the agreement.

QUESTION: OK, maybe one more.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Yeah, the question was what is the effect of the Chadian situation on the talks. I think everyone is well aware of the potential dangers in expansion. It Ė it whether in particular (inaudible) came up in discussions with the groups, I think (inaudible) if you can help strengthen the security situation, you know, overall in Darfur, that that's a vehicle for trying to help avoid spillover to Chad. The problems they've had have their own nature that are separate from this struggle but some of them are obviously interconnected.

Okay, Ill take one last question from the people here, then (inaudible).

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: The question I have a definite interest in. It's a question that the deadline seems to be being extended; is there an end to this process?

I believe there will have to be an end to the process. One of the points that I made in all my discussions today was that people needed to sharpen their focus, that this had to be solved very soon, I can't give you a precise sense (inaudible) accomplish (inaudible). And I've said to the parties all the (inaudible) that I think they face a situation with two pathways here tonight: positive(inaudible) which is one pathway but terrible dangers for all of the other paths. So you know, I know I'll be here (inaudible) beyond that I canít say.

Okay, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: We'll try to do this tomorrow, but it's a little catch-as-catch-can, as you can tell.

QUESTION: Great, thank you.

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