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A Peaceful Plebiscite In Sudan

Sudan is at a critical point in its quest for peace and security, and time for action is growing short.

Sudan is at a critical point in its quest for peace and security, and time for action is growing short. Under the 2005 accord that ended Africa's longest civil war, votes will be held January 9. One will determine whether Southern Sudan will remain part of a unified Sudan or become an independent state. The other is to decide whether the city of Abyei will remain in the North or join the South.

Vote preparations are behind schedule, however, and all parties must recommit themselves to the work at hand. If the process were to collapse and fighting renewed, the results would be devastating for both the Sudanese people and the entire region.

The United States is stepping up efforts to help ensure that the referenda occur on time and reflect the will of the Sudanese people. Senior U.S. officials are urging Sudan's leaders to do everything they can to promote full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and make necessary preparations for the January 2011 votes.

During a recent trip to Sudan, U.S. Special Envoy Scott Gration met with Sudanese leaders in Khartoum and Juba, and proposed a series of concrete steps the U.S. will take if the parties meet their obligations under the CPA. He made clear that U.S.–Sudan relations will improve if the North and South conduct credible votes on time, respect the outcomes, and make progress on other issues of concern, such as improving the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur. The U.S. also has a wide range of consequences that it can use if the situation in Sudan worsens or fails to make progress.

Other senior U.S. officials are actively engaged on Sudan issues as well. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Jim Jones have reached out to Sudanese Vice Presidents Taha and Kiir to encourage progress in preparations for the referenda. Later this month, President Barack Obama will join United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and other world leaders at a summit on Sudan to be held in New York.

Less than 120 days remain until the votes, and success will require an international effort. The entire international community must work together to promote peace and prepare for the potential outcomes of the referenda. The U.S. will continue to work diligently to urge Sudanese political leaders to choose the path of peace over a return to conflict.