Interview by Mina Al-Oraibi of Asharq Al AwsatRobert B. Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State
Grosvenor House Hotel
London, United Kingdom
May 17, 2006
QUESTION: Thank you for taking the time to see us. We will be focusing on Sudan as that is the most important issue on your agenda at the moment. If there is anything else that you wish to discuss in the region then I will be more than happy to do that. But we will be sticking to Sudan. If you donít mind I will be recording.
My first question is about the UN resolution that we saw yesterday. How happy were you with the final draft?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I think the resolution is a good step and I think it builds on something yesterday, or the day before, that was equally important which is the statement by the African Union Peace and Security Council. Together what those two positions represent is the coming together of Africa and the coming together of the international community to emphasis the importance of the Abuja Peace Accord and the follow-up. The key now is the follow-up. You asked am I pleased Ė "yes". The challenge here is taking words on paper and making them into new facts on the ground. That relates to a whole series of issues on the implementation side.
Just to give you a flavor, one, we need to get more food into Darfur. The World Food Program announced about the time that we were concluding the agreement that the were going to have to cut rations for people in Darfur. So you know it was a tragic time to be Ė at the time you just having a peace accord and the poor people at the camp see that the food has been cut. So President Bush announced that even though we have already provided 85% of the food that we will provide more and will use some ships at sea. I think the European Union has come in with an initial contribution. We are trying to work with the World Food Program to see if that meets the needs so they donít have to cut the rations before the June rainy season. So that is one issue.
An equally important issue is including security on the ground. Yes, we have an agreement and the terms are such that it creates the right incentives for people to be mobilized, the Janjaweed , and eventually integrate rebel forces. But you still have a very dangerous situation. So anything that can be done to strengthen the current AMIS of the African Union forces is important. We have been in touch with the Rwandans who were considering perhaps adding some troops. It is one of the reasons why President Bush has encouraged NATO to try to help in a planning sense, because the approximately 7000 African Union forces are spread out in an area the size of France. Their effectiveness could be enhanced a great deal if they get better intelligence on where problems are arising. If they could move the tactical transport more quickly to the areas were there are problems. If one could help with the logistics and the fuel on the operational planning.
So there are ways in which regional organizations could help that.
Third, and this is what relates to the resolution, you want to get the UN forces in as quickly as you can. But one has to recognize that it is still going to take time to assemble those forces and get them into place. And then what is equally as important is trying to encourage all the different rebel groups to participate in this. That is what the African Union is trying to do this week. And get the government to follow through on its obligations. So, in sum, the peace accord is an opportunity. It is an important step, but there is a lot of work to be done to bring this to fruition. One always has to keep in mind that two million people that are struggling in these camps. And, even today I heard that some of the NGOs are pulling out of some areas because they are concerned about some of the on-going risks and violence. So there are a lot of follow up.
QUESTION: You have given us a lot of food for thought from there. Just following up from the resolution, the Sudanese government has a week to accept allowing the military experts from the UN and the AU, hopefully to follow-up with the UN troops as you clearly stated are important. Do you think that the Sudanese government will accept this one week deadline and what if they donít? What are the provisions?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I certainly hope so. We have been in touch with a number of the Sudanese officials, especially Vice President Taha, and reminded them that they had stated that they wanted to have a peace agreement before they brought in UN forces. So know we all worked hard at a peace agreement so it is time to take the next step. I saw a statement by the Minister of Information made yesterday saying they would work with this AU-UN team. I am pleased that the AU-UN team is moving promptly but I would even like to see quicker action. Because one should keep in mind you have 7000 AU forces in the region. Frankly, I donít think one needs to take too many more trips to get a sense of what one needs to do to deploy the forces. In other words, there is experience of people on the ground now. So what I just keep in mind is that you have people living in very difficult conditions. You have ongoing violence so one has to connect the world of agreements and UN discussions to the world of reality on the ground.
QUESTION: We know what the Security Council has come up with but what can the US Government do to help persuade Khartoum to hurry up, so to speak, the entrance of the UN troops? What sort of incentives can you offer?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, the starting point is, and this is one reason why Iíve been to Khartoum as well as Darfur four times, is that the government in Khartoum itself recognized, starting with the North-South Accord which ended the 21 year old civil war, that the old pattern of behavior was counter productive and self destructive. And there was a need through the North-South CPA (Comprehensive Peace Agreement) and now through the Darfur Peace Accord, the DPA, to create a new structure for Sudanese politics. Because at heart what both these agreements go to is the fact that the center in Khartoum has for centuries basically has been dominating regional peripheries. So the first part is a recognition by the government of Khartoum itself that the old politics needs to move on to a new pattern. Now, they do recognize that by signing this agreement. One has to keep reminding them how it is in their own self interests to follow through on the agreements. So part of the diplomacy is not just pressuring people or arguing with people or threatening people, it is trying to discuss with people to get a better sense of what is in their self interest as well as ours. Second, this Darfur Peace Accord creates an opportunity for them to rescue what are after all two million of their own people, and to create an opportunity to win not only international acceptability but create peace for their own interests. So that is another aspect of it.
Third, what I think also motivates the Khartoum government is, not only with the US but with others, is the idea that if they do follow this course and they do resolve some of these terrible disputes, that they will win a greater international acceptability. So, we donít have ambassadorial or other relations. We worked with them on some counter terrorism issues. They are still on the counter terrorism list, and they are suffering from earlier sanctions. Certainly, starting with the North-South accord what we have said to the Khartoum government is we would like to work towards a more normal relationship. But to work towards a more normal relationship, you not only need peace accords, you need to implement them.
QUESTION: So having said that, do you think that if these peace accords could come into fruition and for the Janjaweed militias to be disarmed, you can see a day for the normalization of relations between the US and Sudan?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: That is what we are working towards. And, indeed, there is one other key regional dispute that the government will have to address, which is the Beja in the east, which is a similar sort of problem. But look, we would like to have a constructive relationship with the Sudanese government. We would like to sort of help them just as right now the US is putting in about $1.3 billion a year to Sudan but in the north and south it is roughly split about equal. But a large proportion of that money goes just to keep people alive. Wouldnít it be better to hold out the incentive of reconstruction and development? This is part of what is in the North South accord, and we are also holding in the Darfur Accord. So in a sense you know the developments with Libya are a good example of how if a country chooses a different path, even though we obviously still have many points of disagreement with Libya, for example, on some of the political issues that we want to try and strengthen relationships.
QUESTION: Speaking about the Abuja peace accord, were you satisfied with the Sudanese governmentís position? And do you think it can last without the remaining two factions signing up to the peace accord?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Ok, those are two separate questions. The first one, it is important to keep in mind the role that the US played, but also the role the African Union played. We were mediators. This was an agreement between the government and the rebel movements. Now when I and some of the other international partners came in, you had a situation where the African Union, after months and months and months of discussions and deliberations, had put forward what I thought was a very fine draft, but the government of Sudan had agreed but the rebel movements had not. So what I and my colleagues tried to do was first listen closely to the rebel groups and try to get an understanding of the greater sensitivities to see if we could come up with some suggested amendments. So the government accepted the first deal, and I am pleased that the government accepted the Accord with the amendments, which were in both the security but in some of the political and economic issues. So were there difficult discussions? Yes. But I am pleased that they agreed in the process.
As for your second question about the rebel movements, as I said at the time, I think Mini Menawi and his commanders took a courageous decision to take a step for peace. One needs to recall that because of the history of Darfur and also because of the recent history of the terrible genocide, there is a lot of fear and there is a lot of distrust. So, part of this again is overcoming fear and distrust and that takes more than words on paper. It takes building confidence. It is something that we and other international partners can help do on the ground. So, it was very important that Mini Menawi, who represents a lot of the forces in the field, took that step with the support of his commanders. It was also striking that even on the day that the agreement was signed that some of Abdel Wahid's followers broke with him and wanted to sign the peace accord. They sent a letter associating themselves. I know that there was a group of tribal leaders who also associated themselves with the process. So it would certainly be preferable if Abdel Wahid's faction can move forward with this as well. Everybody has tried to do as much as they can to try to encourage them. But ultimately it has to be their decision.
There is one other step that I want to draw your attention to. The Accord developed and we helped refine this, a Darfur-Darfur dialogue. And it is important to keep in mind that while the rebels leaders represent constituencies, there are other groups and other tribes in Darfur who have been really been neutral in this process. And so while the rebel movements have a claim on some loyalties they donít necessarily represent everybody. Now the way this should ultimately be decided, this is in the agreement, is through elections. That is how you determine whether you represent people or not. But there is a political power sharing arrangement for a few years until you move to the elections, and a transitional Darfur authority. The Darfur-Darfur dialogue is quite important because it allows the area to broaden the participation so it includes rebel movements and others. I think that also goes to the crux of your question, which is we need to build acceptability in the Accord.
Right now a lot of people donít know what is in the Accord. It is 85-90 pages, and there is a lot of disinformation on it. It was clear when I was in Abuja that some of the rebels didnít really seem to read what was in the Accord. Frankly, you have competition among some of the rebels. Mini was a rebel commander under Abdel Wahid. He broke away. So the distrust is not only between the government and the rebels movements, but it is also within the rebel movements. So you know we hope that Abdel Wahid in particular joins, but he has been very evasive on the process. This is where again we will work closely with the African Union. The African Union as I recall gave until the end of the month for other parties to join on. Then it said if you donít sign on you may be subject to some sanctions, but it also, and this is the important part, said that if you try to undermine the Accord then you will put yourself in a position where others will have to take action against you. It is one thing not to agree; it is another thing to undermine and to return to violence to people who suffered, the poor people in Darfur.
QUESTION: How do you assess the AUís role? Have you been satisfied with their role especially in the peace process, but also their forces?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I think one needs to put this in perspective. As you know the African Union is a derivation of the old OAU (Organization of African Unity). When you compare what the African Union is trying to do with the crises in Africa compared to the old OAU, it is the difference between night and day. There were some very serious efforts by very dedicated people. But first take the forces. It was a very important thing that those African forces got into Darfur as soon as they did, and they have tried to improve the situation on the ground. But as everyone has acknowledged including the African Union and its commanders, it is not enough. At one point, they thought maybe they could get up to 12,000, but couldnít get enough countries to make contributions. It is a very big area. They need additional support. So I believe that the African Union would be the critical core of any UN mission. The UN mission wouldnít replace them. It would build on them. I visited a lot of the African Union forces. Some of them have lost their lives trying to protect people. But they need to be buttressed with additional support. They have operated their mandate more in a monitoring role in part because they are outgunned by the different parties. So, it is important for the other parties to stand down.
Then, in the area of the diplomatic mediation, former Tanzanian Prime Minister Salim Salim I think exhibited extraordinary patience and decency and intelligence trying to bring the rebel movements together with the government. From what I could see this was not a traditional negotiation. Rebel movements would often state their demands, but they would then not put them in words on paper. And so I think the African Union mediating team did a very good job. As I say I was pleased to be able to work with them to make some suggested adjustments to help bring Mini Menawi on board and to bring the government on board to help move the peace process forward. So the African Union has been a valued partner. If you reflect on my answer to your first question, you were focused on the UN and my saying that that was important but it is equally important that the African Union is there.
QUESTION: How soon do you see the possibility for the AU forces to be supported by international forces of the UN?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well, I would like to see it as soon as possible. I mean letís take the steps. Number one as I mentioned: there already are Rwandan forces and good troops on the ground. If we can add to those forces over the course of the coming weeks and months, that is very important to do. The second possibility is that I do believe that with the support of some NATO and EU countries, you can have some logistical support and planning and operational support during the course of this summer possibly. And then the third is to get the UN forces there as soon as possible. Some people have said it could be done start to bring them in by September, some it will take longer. I canít say right now. You do have a UN force in the south you recall and it has taken a while to build up. But that is why what I emphasized that it is not only the role of the peace keepers but also the role of the parties. In other word, if the government starts to shut down the Janjaweed as it has committed to do, if the rebels stop the killing, then the role of the peace keepers becomes easier.
Moderator: Last question.
QUESTION: Thank you. About demobilization and disarming obligations, the Janjaweed and other militia, who will monitor it and how confident are you that this can be done effectively enough to bring peace to Sudan?
DEPUTY SECRETARY ZOELLICK: Well this is one of the areas that we spent a lot of time on and tried to refine the agreement and it has some self reinforcing provisions. The government of Sudan has the obligation to neutralize and disarm its forces. But the agreement didnít have a specification of how; it said that the government is suppose to develop a plan within 37 days. What we worked in our discussions with the movements to proceed to build their confidence which is to include a series of provisions that the government plan had to incorporate, including dealing with their heavier arms and sort of then how they would use some of their time phases to do the integration. So the first answer to your question is that is it is up to the government plan to explain how it plans to do this and move them into cantonments or how to control them. That is to be verified by the African Union. So there is an external verification plan. And then, third, there is an incentive which is that the rebel forces donít have to start move to their assembly areas until the government has taken its step and the African Union has verified it. So if the government wants to bring the rebels to peace, it has to take this step and the African Union has to monitor it. So those are the reinforcing provisions of the agreement. But underneath your question is another observation or implied observation for reply which is an important one. It is a very dangerous place. The Janjaweed have been very, very violent. They have been used as a counter-insurgency force, but some of them also reflect various tribal groups and conflicts. A lot of these people, you know, everybody is armed and you have conflicts between people who have herders and those who have been settled agriculturists. So that is one reason why it is important to complement the agreement with an international force to try to help keep the peace. But I think the sad reality is that, you know, the violence isnít finished. There is a chance to end. There is a chance to bring peace, but it still remains a very dangerous and fragile environment.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
Released on May 18, 2006