At the Foreign Press Club in Washington, D.C this morning, three Obama administration officials who deal with Sudan briefed we press. Senior Director for Multi-lateral affairs at the National Security Council Samantha Power, Sudan Special Envoy Scott Gration, and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnny Carson each discussed the current state of US diplomacy on Sudan.
I will post a transcript when it becomes available, but in the meantime here are two highlights of the briefing that are worth mentioning:
1) According to Samantha Power, President Obama is receiving daily briefings about on Sudan for the run up to the southern Sudan independence referendum on January 9. In addition, Dennis McDonough, who today became the Deputy National Security Council Advisor to the President (and is one of his top confidants), chairs at least three NSC meetings a week on Sudan. These meetings include a wide array of government officials. Power even mentioned that including Joint Chiefs Chair Admiral Mullen was a regular participant–the first I have heard of his involvement in Sudan issues. Quote of the presser: “It is impossible to overstate the degree of high level attention being paid to sudan at the White House,” said Power.
2) None of the speakers once mentioned the ICC indictments against the Sudanese President or the Governor of South Kordofan state. This is nothing new. If you ask any government official they will state their support of the ICC process. Right now, the administration seems to be doing all it can to secure Khartoum’s cooperation with the forthcoming referendum. This includes offering an array of incentives, like lifting sanctions. Presumably, though, if these incentives are taken to their logical conclusion, at some point the United States is going to have to face up the fact that it is normalizing relations with a government headed by an indicted war criminal. For now, though, all focus is on holding a free, fair, and peaceful referendum on January 9.
Finally, there will be a big meeting on Sudan at the Security Council on Monday. Among other things, the head of UN Peacekeeping will brief the council on possible contingency plans for the immediate post-election period. This is something the United States has clearly been pushing for, and is something to definitely keep an eye on.