Home | Comment & Analysis    Wednesday 27 August 2003

Sudanese Foreign minister condemns rebel "intransigence" at Kenya peace talks


Al-Sharq al-Awsat

August 26, 2003

Text of interview with Sudanese Foreign Minister Dr Mustafa Uthman Isma’il by Muhammad Sa’id Muhammad Al-Hasan in Khartoum entitled "Khartoum not bound by ’Nakuru Document’ because it is unfair; Mustafa Uthman Isma’il to Al-Sharq al-Awsat: no arrangements for Al-Bashir-Garang meeting, we hoped US would treat Al-Numayri well" and published by London-based newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat web site on 26 August; subheadings inserted editorially:

[Al-Hasan] What is the government’s strategy in the final round of the peace negotiations and afterward?

[Isma’il] The government’s stand on the Nakuru document is known and we will overlook it because we want to focus on the future and create an atmosphere that is conducive for the success of negotiations.

The government went to the round of negotiations with a clear strategy based on the concept that there is no alternative for peace. Its strategy is based on the following points:

1. The government will abide by all the documents it signed.

2. While the government will not abide by any document it has not signed, it will not prevent others from dealing with or using any other document that they see fit for them without the government being bound by them. This applies to the Nakuru document.

3. Sufficient flexibility will be exhibited to enable the other side and mediators to manoeuvre and move forward in the peace process.

4. Contacts will continue with all parties and sides, whether they are inside or outside the country, in order to maintain the momentum required for the peace process.

5. Negotiations and reactions through the media will be avoided.

This is the strategy with which the government delegation took part in the negotiations. It is fully authorized by the political leadership to ensure the success of this round of negotiations. Even though we have not reached the aspired for success, we are still optimistic that this round will end better than previous rounds. The government’s goal is a just peace - one that does not exclude an individual, party, group, or tribe, ends war, and leads the way to development and progress.

[Al-Hasan] Is what the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement [SPLM] said about the reason of the recent crisis being its rejection of the partnership proposal true?

[Isma’il] In truth, it is an old issue that was proposed when the Machakos Protocol was discussed. The government was insistent on it out of trust. The protocol forms a government where the government and the movement are partners. We said that we have to prepare to build confidence between the two main parties and we are moving toward forming a government so that we would not be troublesome partners. In addition to our own conviction of this path, we enjoyed the encouragement of influential regional and international parties who are now taking part in the negotiations process. When the movement hesitated, for whatever interpretations it had of the situation, we let it drop, not out of a desire to retreat or because the issue is not important, but because the movement is unwilling. A meeting was then held between President Umar al-Bashir and SPLM leader John Garang in Nairobi and technical meetings commenced in the Hague and Washington. The partnership issue is thus not related to the Nakuru document.

Government criticism of the Nakuru document

[Al-Hasan] Why has the government criticized the Nakuru document?

[Isma’il] The government criticized the Nakuru document for a main reason; namely, that it clashes with the spirit and provisions of the Machakos Protocol. As for the political partnership, it is reached with both parties’ approval. If the movement [SPLM] is unwilling, then this means that there will be no partnership.

[Al-Hasan] How does the government view the stands of Egypt and Kenya on the movement and their description of its stand in the negotiations as being "intransigent?"

[Isma’il] This is not just the position of Egypt and Kenya, but an expression of the movement’s intransigence and hard-line stand by almost all the parties involved in the peace process, and maybe even all the parties known for their support of the movement and opposition of the government, such as John Prendergast, the well- known activist in the International Crisis Group and who was an adviser to President Clinton’s Administration. He said in recent statements that the movement is adopting a hard-line stand in the negotiations. The difference between the two parties is that the government went to the negotiations with an open mind and heart and a willingness to be as flexible as possible and work on helping the movement and mediators overcome the obstacle that is holding up negotiations, while the movement went to the negotiations with only one goal; namely, to impose the document on the government no matter how illogical and unacceptable it is for the government, especially since the movement benefited from the document being proposed through the negotiations’ secretariat.

[Al-Hasan] Would the government accept the document if it were amended?

[Isma’il] The government does not want to monopolize action, and is open to discuss with others the proposed formats. The government feels that all the formats proposed by the mediators, led by General [Lazarus] Sumbeiywo [the Kenyan peace mediator], are acceptable to exit the dilemma caused by the Nakuru document. One of the formats proposed by the mediators and accepted by the government is for discussion of topics in the document to continue and for the points of reference for these topics to be varied, starting with the IGAD statement of principles and including the Machakos protocol and all other documents on the table, including the Nakuru document.

Every party has the right to use these documents’ points of reference and explain their stands on the issue that can form a format that is acceptable to the different parties. In other words, the movement is not deprived of using the Nakuru document if it wanted and the government is not forced to abide by the Nakuru document if it does not want to, especially since the document has not been agreed on and the government has not even agreed to sign, not to mention abide by it.

Possible talks between president, SPLM leader

[Al-Hasan] Are reports of a third meeting between President Umar al-Bashir and SPLM Leader John Garang true?

[Isma’il] Until now, there are no specific arrangements for a meeting between President Al-Bashir and John Garang, but this does not mean that it is impossible. It must be ensured that such a meeting at such level will achieve the required progress regarding the negotiations. We do not want a celebrative media meeting especially since we have already done that in Kampala and Nairobi, and if this meeting fails and does not achieve the required results then it would have a depressing effect on public and international opinion. Allow me to say that everything is possible, depending on progress in the peace process.

Government under pressure; recent events in west

[Al-Hasan] The government has talked about being pressured by different international parties, are these pressures aimed at extracting compromises?

[Isma’il] Instead of using the word "pressures" let us use "desire", there is a strong desire starting from the Sudanese, Arab, and African peoples as well as the international community. This desire is to stop the war and spread peace, and for Sudan to start benefiting from its wealth and resources. This desire was mirrored by the continuous presence of these forces in the negotiations field and in following the negotiations process. These forces can be seen moving from Nairobi to Khartoum, Cairo, and to Washington, and are all focused on speeding up the peace process and making it a success.

[Al-Hasan] Are the recent events in western Sudan related to the peace process and SPLM?

[Isma’il] The SPLM, as a result of what is happening in the west and the east, is under the illusion that the government is in its weakest state, and reports this viewpoint to the different sides involved in the peace process. It is true that the government admits there are problems, and is working on solving them in the east, west, or south. The government has been through worse circumstances than these in the past, such as in the early 1990’s, when the government was confronting the escalating war in the south, and the war in the east. In January 1997 there was the interference of neighbouring countries Ethiopia, Eritrea, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Uganda in what resembled an alliance, in addition to the severe siege imposed by the United States. What would you say now that the government has developed its relations with all of its neighbouring countries, except Eritrea, and opened up its relations with European countries and seen those relations progress forward? The government is absolutely in a better situation than before, and wants to use this situation for the sake of peace and not to prolong war.

Khartoum’s relations with Nairobi, Cairo

[Al-Hasan] What are the outcomes of the intensive and direct communications between Khartoum, Nairobi, and Cairo, and the recent visit by the Kenyan foreign minister to Sudan?

[Isma’il] The Kenyan foreign minister’s visit confirmed the vitality and vigor of the Kenyan role in ensuring the participation of important capitals, such as Cairo, in the peace negotiations. The minister also confirmed that the government would persist with this diligent activity in order to preserve the driving force pressing in the direction of the peace process. On our side we confirmed our adherence to the IGAD initiative as well as our confidence in Kenya’s leadership toward peace, and asserted our abidance by efforts required to achieve it.

[Al-Hasan] What about the Egyptian role?

[Isma’il] Egypt’s stand and interest in reaching a peace which maintains Sudan’s unity is not new to us. This continued to be a distinguishing feature of the Egyptian position when relations between Cairo and Khartoum were tense and weak. What is new this time around are the Cairo-Khartoum relations which have - since the start of the year - witnessed a shift on all aspects, and was embodied by the visit by Safwat al-Sharif, the secretary general of the national ruling party in Egypt, in January and his participation in independence celebrations in Malakal, followed by President Husni Mubarak’s decisive visit to Khartoum last April which turned over a new leaf in the two countries’ relations and gave the green light for movement in all fields. This was followed in July by the Egyptian prime minister’s visit to Sudan along with a number of top ministers and businessmen to participate in the higher ministerial committee’s meetings. There was also the visit by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa, and his participation in the national salvation celebrations in the city of Juba as the first Arab League secretary-general to visit the south.

In addition, there was my visit to Cairo in early August which was followed by Defence Minister Maj-Gen Bakri Hasan Salih’s visit to Cairo. All these developments contributed to coordination and consultation in the two countries’ positions on different issues starting from the path to peace and ending with the situation in Iraq. Egypt’s current clear movements are therefore in harmony with the latest developments.

International Crisis Group said anti-Sudan

[Al-Hasan] Why did you describe the International Crisis Group as being destructive and anti Sudan?

[Isma’il] When we look into this group and its elements, such as, International Crisis Group Commissioner John Prendergast, who was an advisor in the former US Administration’s group, which was lead by Susan Rice, who specialized in efforts to isolate and topple the government in Khartoum, and took upon herself the continuation of the war in order to weaken the government with no regard to the lives lost in the north and south as a result of the ongoing war, such a person was exonerated from the State Department and participated in the establishment of this centre to accomplish those tasks outlined by Rice during the democrats’ term. From our observation of this group’s activity, we found that the group has not changed its goals or strategies in Sudan. Therefore, when Prendergast came to Sudan and started meeting with different parties, we were sure he was benefiting from the free atmosphere and using it within his group’s strategy and program. Despite the fact that we found his last statement in which he described SPLM as being hard-line, surprising, we were not tricked into believing that these groups that sought war and backed its continuation would also be on the losing end if peace is established.

USA’s visa restrictions

[Al-Hasan] How does the government view Washington’s reservations with regards to granting a visa to ex-President Ja’far al-Numayri?

[Isma’il] We were hoping that US institutions would consider President al-Numayri’s health condition and that he was one of the Sudanese presidents who had established good ties with them and is known to them. We were hoping that the treatment would be suitable, but of course we cannot impose on the US procedures it must follow in such issues relating to entry and exit. I just wish to point out that the Sudanese government has the right to impose the same restrictions on its US visitors that the US imposes on its Sudanese visitors.

We commemorated, this August, the fifth anniversary of the bombing of Al-Shifa Factory in Khartoum North by US missiles. The declared purpose of that bombing was that the factory is owned by Usamah Bin-Ladin and that he is using it to produce chemical weapons, which was proven wrong to everyone. The international community, with its international and regional organizations, condemned this heinous act that was carried out by the former US Administration as a result of an intelligence error. This misleading intelligence information led the former administration to destroy the hospital that manufactured medicine to treat people and to render its employees jobless. Is it not better for the US administration to verify its information on Sudan so that it would not make repeat the mistake of the previous administration?

In some cases, US institutions and laws are applied in a manner that leaves one confused, especially since they are institutions that are supposed to belong to an advanced state that has state-of- the-art information technology and devices.

I will give another even odder example: A Sudanese national went for treatment in the United States, where his daughter resides. He passed away there and his family wanted to send his remains to Khartoum so that he can be buried in his country. The department concerned insisted that shipping to Sudan is forbidden and the family had to send the remains to Riyadh and from there to Khartoum. Therefore, I was not surprised about the statement regarding granting former President Ja’far Al-Numayri a visa.

[Al-Hasan] But did you not say that Sudanese-US ties are moving forward?

[Isma’il] I say that despite this, Sudanese-US ties are witnessing progress that has not yet reached the state of normalization. My visit to Washington in May and my meeting with Secretary of State Colin Powell as the first official visit gave us an opportunity to discuss all these issues. I believe that it is important to move forward.

Libya and Lockerbie

[Al-Hasan] How does the Sudanese government view Tripoli’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the Lockerbie plane bombing and paying compensation to the victims’ families?

[Isma’il] Libya has supported Sudan on many occasions. Colonel Al- Qadhafi is the only leader who led a demonstration protesting the US bombing of Al-Shifa factory in Khartoum. We appreciate this and Sudan was among the first countries to work on lifting sanctions of Libya by adopting the resolution of the Ouagadougou Summit in Burkina Faso. As for the Lockerbie case, Sudan continues to support Libya in all international and regional forums and has not missed a single one. We believe it is our duty to do so. As for the admission of responsibility and the compensations that took place within the framework of a recent agreement, Libya may have taken this decision alone or in consultation with others, but Sudan was not among those who were consulted. Our stand is: The people of Mecca know its alleys best [Arabic proverb]; the Libyans alone know what is best for them.

US accusations against Saudi Arabia

[Al-Hasan] What is Sudan’s position on the campaigns and accusations by US circles against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

[Isma’il] The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a cornerstone of stability and moderation in the region. The US Administration will undoubtedly be mistaken if it thinks it can pressure the Sudanese Government into carrying out actions and practices that would clash with the culture and creed of the people of Saudi Arabia because this will not lead to stability. Saudi Arabia, for Muslims throughout the world, is the country where their qiblah [direction of prayer] and prophet’s final resting place is. There is thus an impression that there is unjustified animosity against Saudi Arabia by extremist forces and circles in US society. These are the same forces that following 11 September called for a clash of civilizations and claimed that Islamic civilization is backward and that terrorism is tied to Islam. Therefore, Sudan — government and people; rather, people before government — stand by Saudi Arabia in the face of these unjustified accusations and campaign in the hope that there are those in the US Administration who are rational.

Democracy, pluralism

[Al-Hasan] Is your concentration on democracy and pluralism a government strategy or are you singing outside the choir?

[Isma’il] Sudan is a country with multiple norms, cultures, and religions. It is one of the countries with the most experience in democracy and inclusion. It has had three experiences with some chronological interruptions. There is a belief in the need to benefit from this variety and use it to build Sudan and preserve its unity. Since it is human nature to live in gatherings, families, and big entities, we need a means to allow the Sudanese to exercise this nature. The options are available and have been tried before; namely, tribal and sectarian gatherings and political pluralism. When we bring these gatherings closer together, we find that the best thing is to gather them in a framework of political pluralism. Tribalism and all such efforts do not place the homeland at the forefront; rather, tribalism sometimes supersedes nationalism, which threatens the country and its unity. Political pluralism, on the other hand, helps melt this variety in society. Political parties have different senses of belonging but they always place the banner of the country first. We thus need a wise and pioneering democracy that deals with political pluralism as an important element to preserve national unity.

As for those who say that I am singing outside the choir, I say to them that the Salvation Movement, from among its three counterparts - in November 1958 and May 1969 - is the only one that voluntarily endorsed the return to political pluralism. It took the initiative and endorsed the 1998 constitution, which clearly stipulated political pluralism, and it is the one that insisted in its peace talks on holding direct free elections. It wanted to hold the elections within one year of signing the agreement, but, responding to the desires of other parties, it agreed to hold them in the first half of the agreement’s life. One of the reasons the government rejects the Nakuru Document is that it acknowledged political pluralism in the north and did not do so in the south; rather, it made the south the monopoly of the SPLM. I come out of this and say that political pluralism is a preventive measure, a means of salvation, and a national necessity. The president of the republic made it a priority in his second term to abide by political pluralism and affirmed in his recent meeting in the Republican Palace with the leaders of the different political forces that there is no going back on this path.

In my estimation, if it was not for the war that is imposed on us and which continues until now, we would now be living in a sound state of democracy and political pluralism that sets the foundations for the Sudan of the future and brings together all of Sudan’s people, both inside it and outside it. The Salvation Front would have thus kept good on its promised and achieved its aspired goal of a strong Sudan.

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