Al Alam News Network, an Arabic language TV channel based in Beirut, asked me to join a spokesperson for the government of Sudan in a discussion on Jan. 27, 2011, concerning the recent referendum on the secession of Southern Sudan. The sound quality of the line from Beirut made it very difficult to understand the questions, but I made the following points.
The United States initially supported the unity of Sudan rather than its division into two countries. When it became apparent, however, that neither the government in Southern Sudan nor in Khartoum was working to make unity attractive, the United States insisted on holding the referendum on schedule and that its results be accepted. The death of former Sudan People’s Liberation Movement Leader John Garang in a helicopter accident ended any effort by Southern Sudan to seek unity while the government in Khartoum never made a serious attempt to make unity attractive.
The United States will almost certainly push for democratic systems in Southern Sudan just as it has been doing in the North.
I doubted that the United States has any intention to provide arms to Southern Sudan, although some American groups outside the government are arguing that the United States should, at a minimum, provide defensive military equipment. So far, Southern Sudan has had no problem buying arms on the international arms market.
It is in the interest of both the North and South and the entire Horn of African region to have an amicable divorce between the two parties where they resolve outstanding issues in the next six months before the interim government comes to an end. This should be followed by “soft borders” for the free movement of people between the North and South. This was a point made in Washington on Jan. 26 by visiting Sudanese Foreign Minister Ali Karti.