Sudan: Briefing With Senior State Department Officials on the Situation in Sudan
MODERATOR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to today’s background call on Sudan. Today’s call will be on background, attributable to senior State Department officials, and embargoed until its conclusion.
For your information only and not for reporting, joining us today are [Senior State Department Official One], referred to in the transcript as Senior State Department Official Number One, and [Senior State Department Official Two], referred to as Senior State Department Official Number Two. Our speaker, [Senior State Department Official One], will give opening remarks and then we’ll turn it over for your questions, and [Senior State Department Official Two] will be available to answer questions as well.
With that, [Senior State Department Official One], I’ll turn it over to you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much, [Moderator], and hi, everybody. Thanks for joining the call. [Senior State Department Official Two] and I just came back from the Saudi foreign ministry office here in Jeddah, where we were able to witness a signing between representatives of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Security – I’m sorry, the Rapid Support Forces. Let me just say that again because everybody gets that mixed up: the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. They signed what we are calling a declaration of commitment to protect the civilians of Sudan, done here in Jeddah. That was a title request by the parties to emphasize that they are interested in trying to help the civilians who are suffering from this fighting. It’s a document that we helped them negotiate. It recognizes the obligations of both sides under international humanitarian and human rights law to facilitate humanitarian actions to meet the needs of civilians.
We – that should be released to you shortly so that you can see the document. The – one of the purposes is to guide the conduct of the two forces so that we can get in humanitarian assistance, help begin the restoration of essential services like electricity and water, to arrange for the withdrawal of security forces from hospitals and clinics, and to perform the respectful burial of the dead.
So now that they have completed the affirmation of these principles and their willingness to cooperate with the international humanitarian community, we’ll – they will then begin with the support of the Saudi and American mediators to negotiate an actual short-term ceasefire of – we set a goal of up to 10 days, but we’ll have to see what’s possible, to facilitate those activities I just described. Again, delivery of humanitarian assistance, restoration of essential services, withdrawal of forces from hospitals and medical clinics, and the respectful burial of the dead.
One important point that will be different from the earlier ceasefires that we have tried to negotiate is that we have developed a ceasefire monitoring mechanism, which is being supported by the UN, the Saudis, and other members of the international community. So that will help – I’m sorry, [Senior State Department Official Two] is pointing at me to say “and us,” if I didn’t make that clear. (Laughter.) So I lost my train of thought. So that’s – that mechanism will help hold the parties accountable to what they’ve agreed to do.
We know there’s a lot of confusion about what’s happening, and so we wanted to take a little bit of time just at the top to explain a little bit better.
So first of all, these talks have been described as pre-negotiations. And what does that mean and why was that term used? So these talks actually began in discussions we had with both sides – we, the United States, had with both sides – during the Eid al-Fitr period where just prior to the Eid, the AU under the leadership of Chairperson Moussa Faki had reached out to the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and other regional and international leaders to come together with a unified voice to press the parties for an Eid al-Fitr ceasefire. We were concerned that that – as the Eid was ending that that ceasefire was going to expire, and we also understand that this is going to be a long – for people who are enduring this, sort of a longer process of building from what I just described as a temporary ceasefire to help people get immediate relief to the ultimate goal of a permanent cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a civilian government. This is going to be a process.
So we are just at the first stage, and we are – we did this in partnership with the Saudis at the request of the two sides. The two sides asked us to help them out with this, but there is every expectation that this process will be expanded to include first and, most importantly, Sudanese civilians; and secondly, regional partners in Africa and in the Arab world and in the international community.
So I’m a little bit tired, so I’m probably rambling. So let me stop and ask [Senior State Department Official Two] if he wants to add anything, and then we’ll go to questions. [Senior State Department Official Two]?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Just – that was a really great laydown that [Senior State Department Official One] gave. Just to talk maybe a little more about Jeddah, to be clear, the document that was signed today, the Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan, is the first step of what we hope to achieve here on the ground in Jeddah while the parties are here. And as [Senior State Department Official One] indicated, the next step is really to focus on negotiating specific security measures the two sides will take to create secure conditions for humanitarian assistance delivery, restoring essential services and burials. And then beyond that will be discussion of what our next round of talks could look like, and I think [Senior State Department Official One] gave a very good laydown of what we hope those would include. Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think it’s important to discuss a little bit also the strenuous effort to get a delegations here. Again, as I said, we the U.S. started talks with both parties on the weekend of that Eid al-Fitr. Very difficult discussions to have. Everyone is having difficulty reaching the leaders because of the communication network problems, so some of them were done by text, some of them by phone. And so we – each side identified a representative, an authorized representative, to talk with us and the Saudi ambassador to Sudan, Ali bin Jaafar, who is just an amazing guy. [Senior State Department Official Two] works closely with him in Khartoum.
So we started those talks, I think – I will look it up on – when [Senior State Department Official Two]’s talking – on the 17th of April. And – no, that’s wrong. It was the Wednesday after the Eid, so can somebody look that up for me? And we kept – we did those every day until we flew here to try and move those talks that we were doing by phone, which were very difficult because of the communications network, to face-to-face talks, which the Saudis offered to host. We tried to start – to get them here on Thursday, a week ago Thursday. Again, someone else will get me the date, because I’ve forgotten what date is it. And we couldn’t get them out.
The Saudis flew a C-130 to Khartoum, which the Saudi ambassador got on the plane, they picked him up in Port Sudan, who flew into the fight in Khartoum. It didn’t work that day, and so then he flew back on Friday, last Friday, so let me – someone is giving me the dates. I don’t – I need the dates of last Thursday and Friday, sorry.
STAFF: Thursday was the 4th.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, so Thursday was the 4th, Friday was the 5th. And we worked very closely with the ICRC, who helped move the two delegations through the contested areas of the city to the SAF-controlled Wadi Seidna military airport, and they flew them here to Jeddah and they got here Friday night. So we started the talks on Saturday.
So the Saudi investment and engagement was absolutely critical to literally get them here. The ICRC played a terrific role in helping move them safely through the city, taking risks. So once they were here, we were able to begin these more complicated discussions that were just impossible to do, frankly, on a phone line that dropped every seven minutes or so.
Okay, so let’s stop and go to questions. Thanks. Hope that is helpful.
MODERATOR: Fantastic. Thank you so much. AT&T operator, would you mind just repeating the instructions for joining the question queue?
OPERATOR: For anyone who wishes to ask a question, please press 1 then 0. And please only press 1 then 0 one time, as remove – as entering it twice will remove you from the queue.
MODERATOR: Great, thank you. Can we please go to Jonathan Guyer from Vox?
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much. I’m curious, there’s been a quotient of criticism from the likes of former Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman that the U.S. had badly mishandled the options over the last several years. I wonder how you respond to that recent criticism, including criticism that the State Department and the White House has outsourced some of its policies to the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Sure. I think it’s important to recall some of the basic facts about Sudan. The Sudanese military first took power in 1958 and has effectively controlled the country since then, including for 30 years under the Omar al-Bashir regime, where there was effectively an Islamic dictatorship. So this – those have been the leaders of Sudan, and that has been the fact that we’ve had to deal with. Ten years ago, Bashir established the Rapid Support Forces as a paramilitary force. So that was a recipe for instability that he established.
So U.S. policy for decades has really been singular. It has been focused on helping the civilians of Sudan resist and overcome Islamic dictatorships and, frankly, military authoritarianism.
We have often focused on folks who live in the peripheries. That’s a term that people use to describe communities that are not in the capital. And that also led to the establishment of South Sudan. So, [Senior State Department Official Two] and I are in a long line, a proud line, of American officials from different agencies who have stood by the side of the Sudanese people and used U.S. power and influence to press the generals to respond to the aspirations of the Sudanese people.
In 2019 when they heroically demanded democracy, we mobilized to assist them. In October 2021, when the two leaders, General Burhan and General Hemedti, deposed the civilian prime minister, the United States mobilized extraordinary economic pressure on the generals. We arranged for the suspension of significant debt relief. Sudan had been under an enormous burden of debt accrued during the Bashir era of about $23 billion. We suspended all lending from international institutions – from the IMF, the World Bank, the African – the development program – hundreds of millions of dollars that had been designated for Sudan after the resolution in 2019. And we organized the suspension of bilateral development assistance from the United States and all of our partners.
So, frankly, [Senior State Department Official Two] and I find it confusing when we’re told that we haven’t been pressing the generals. Again, this is a long line of U.S. policy to push. Our engagement with them has been nothing but pushing them to respond to the aspirations of the people.
I’d like to hand this to [Senior State Department Official Two] now to discuss the intensive efforts underway for – to support the restoration of the democratic transition. And I’d also like him to talk about the calls and engagement he and other members of our team here in Jeddah have been making at my direction to consult with civilian leaders, including women and those from the periphery, about what we’re doing and to get their advice and to make sure they are included in these discussions.
[Senior State Department Official Two], over to you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sure. Thank you, [Senior State Department Official One]. So just to talk a little bit about the engagement with the civilians that we’ve done here in Jeddah at [Senior State Department Official One]’s direction, colleagues and I have been actively reaching out to a number of civilian leaders and stakeholders to discuss the purpose of the pre-negotiation talks in Jeddah, political dynamics, and the intended move to expanded talks that would include civilian stakeholders from Sudan and regional and international actors.
We’ve also talked about steps that the civilian actors could take now to prepare to effectively participate in discussions when they go to that expanded format. I think the key elements I would highlight there are the need to form a broader civilian coalition – that is, one that more accurately or more – is more representative and including voices from women, from non-political actors – that is, members of civil society and other actors – and also representatives from the peripheries that [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned earlier. And we’ve also urged them to do something that had been underway during the framework agreement process that was disrupted by the war that kicked off on April 15th, and that is focusing on how they would approach forming a new civilian government, including selecting key members of that.
And so we have communicated to the civilians that – sorry, pardon me just one moment, please. We’ve also communicated to the civilians that it was at the request of the parties that the talks in Jeddah be very focused on technical military issues related to an effective short-term ceasefire and humanitarian assistance deliveries, and that the expectation is that going forward the scope of talks would broaden to include both different actors – civilians, regional and international actors – but also a broader range of issues.
The other thing we started talking about with civil society representatives and civil society – and representatives of resistance committees, for example, is how some of the really brave ongoing local efforts they’ve undertaken to provide humanitarian assistance and essential services on the ground during the fighting, primarily but not only in Khartoum, could be coordinated with the international humanitarian assistance delivery and the efforts to restore essential services that [Senior State Department Official One] mentioned. So that’s water power, telecommunications, and efforts to distribute fuel.
We have also been quite clear that we have previewed for the parties here in Jeddah that we anticipate the talks going forward will include an expanded – will be in an expanded format that would include civilians, and that the goal of that engagement – our engagement with them, that is – is to put them much more squarely in the driver’s seat alongside regional and international actors as the process moves toward discussion of a permanent cessation of hostilities and forming a civilian government.
I just want to echo here what [Senior State Department Official One] noted, which is that that is going to be a step-by-step process. We have been clear with the partners with whom we’re working here in Jeddah that because of the enmity between the two sides we’re going to have to build to those outcomes. But there is a clear understanding that that’s what we are aiming to get the talks to.
And we’ve also kept regional and international partners apprised of what the Jeddah pre-negotiations talks are and are not. And maybe just to come back to the first part of the question, I would talk a little bit about what we were doing on the ground in Khartoum and in Sudan before fighting commenced on April 15th. We were intensively engaged in supporting the so-called framework political agreement process that began in earnest on December 5th with the signing of the framework agreement itself, which included a fairly broadly representative group of civilian actors and involved negotiations between representatives of that group of signatories and the two principal military leaders.
And we had worked through a so-called phase two process that touched on five main issues, and one of those, which we always expected was going to be the most difficult, was the so-called security sector reform process. And really the key issues there boiled down to the timeline and modalities for integrating the Rapid Support Forces into the Sudanese Armed Forces and also establishing what the command structure would look like for a national professional unified Sudanese army.
I would just note that those conversations, the phase two discussions, had made quite a bit of progress. There was quite a lot of discussion between the civilians and between the military leadership about what a new civilian government would look like. The civilians for their part were discussing modalities for forming that civilian government. And all the while, we were very clear-eyed about the fact that this issue of security sector reform and particularly the issues of how you would integrate the SAF into the – the RSF into the SAF and how the command structure would incorporate the two leading generals were likely to be the biggest stumbling blocks.
And indeed, unfortunately, that’s what turned out to happen. And so I just would emphasize that we were quite clear-eyed about that throughout the process. We did a lot of work to try to prevent the outcome that we ultimately saw with the outbreak of fighting on the 15th. But I think as [Senior State Department Official One] rightly noted, the tensions between SAF and RSF are longstanding. They go back to the decision to first form the RSF 10 years ago, as [Senior State Department Official One] noted, and then in 2017 the even more neuralgic issue from the perspective of SAF to codify under law that the RSF was part of the military component and that the RSF commander reported directly to the head of state in parallel with the SAF commander.
So those tensions were not new. They were always anticipated to be something that was going to have to be navigated and that there was a degree of potential for the two leading generals to not, at the end of the day, agree on a formulation that would allow them to navigate out of that issue.
Let me stop there.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. If we can please go to the line of Iain Marlow from Bloomberg News.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this, [Senior State Department Officials One] and [Senior State Department Official Two]. I’m just wondering, on the declaration itself, I mean, is the declaration an effective ceasefire, or is it kind of just more of a clarification? Is it an effective ceasefire, or is it more of a sort of a declaration of intent, a kind of first step to work towards a ceasefire?
And secondly, I’m just also wondering, can you give me a sense basically of what you expect to happen now given your read of the commitment on both sides here and the sort of mood on the ground, I guess, in the region in terms of what’s likely to happen? I mean, are we likely to see humanitarian aid flow in, more security along that corridor, or simply aid kind of coming in as the talks sort of come on and the sort of ceasefire or the mood sort of lightens a tiny bit?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Hey, Iain, thanks very much for your question. And your second characterization, which (inaudible) so I’ll dictate to be clear, is more accurate. This is not a ceasefire. This is an affirmation of their obligations under international humanitarian law, particularly with regard to the treatment of civilians and the need to create space for humanitarians to operate.
The parties themselves said they wanted this kind of approach, and it is also important, we understand, for many in the international humanitarian community – as you may know, the early days of the war and even through this week, warehouses of aid agencies have been ransacked. Regrettably, some members, some staff members, have been killed or injured. So the humanitarian community – well, I believe – I can’t speak for them – will welcome the kind of affirmation that you’ll see in the document.
I want to highlight that the first three paragraphs of the preamble were written by the Sudanese parties, so this is what they wanted to get started. These principles now are supposed to govern the next steps, which is – as we said, was the negotiation of a short-term ceasefire – as in not a permanent cessation of hostilities; they’re not ready to do that – to allow the kind of steps we’ve talked about.
I think, Iain, we’re really conscious of the terrible fighting that has gone on this week. We have been receiving messages from our friends in Sudan and from others who are in contact with people in Sudan. It’s been a very dismal backdrop to what we’ve been trying to do. We are hopeful, cautiously, that their willingness to sign this document will create some momentum that will force them to create some space for some relief. The two sides are quite far apart.
These were intensive, lengthy negotiations on, frankly, pretty fundamental principles, but I think the discussion of them was helpful to highlight how important they will be. I don’t expect full compliance, frankly. But I think, again, lengthy, detailed discussions on the importance of taking these kinds of actions and, again, creating the space for the next stage of the limited ceasefire to allow the steps we’ve talked about to deliver aid.
And [Senior State Department Official Two] is looking at me, telling me to hand him the phone.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Just three quick points on top of [Senior State Department Official One]’s excellent response. I think one of the things that the parties themselves very much wanted as a feature of an effective short-term ceasefire to expedite humanitarian assistance delivery and the other measures we discussed was the ceasefire monitoring mechanism. And that is something that is different than any of the other – that will be a different feature than any other ceasefire that’s come before. I think, candidly, there is some hope on both sides that the other side will be seen as being the perpetrator of violations. Frankly, we’ve seen violations by both sides in all the ceasefires to date and don’t expect that to change.
The negotiations were very tough. [Senior State Department Official One] and I have talked about the fact that we both had the privilege of being involved in negotiations in – on really difficult issues in hard places down through the years. And these are, speaking just for myself, as tough as anything I’ve done, and a lot of that has to do with the depth of enmity between the two parties and the level of mistrust.
The last thing that I would say is that it took longer, candidly, than we expected to get agreement on the declaration of commitments, but one of the benefits of having had more time with the two sides is that we talked about a number of issues that are directly related to the next step here, which is agreeing on specific measures that facilitate an effective short-term ceasefire. And so in negotiation terms, that’s an advantage. We’ve already begun some of those conversations and we’re really looking forward to quickly moving into that discussion so that we can actually get that ceasefire underway and get the aid to the Sudanese people that so badly need it.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Can we please go to the line of Daphne Psaledakis from Reuters?
QUESTION: Hi, thank you so much for doing this. So as you mentioned, both sides have failed to abide by repeated truce deals. Given that, what confidence do you have that the commanders will abide by this declaration? And how can you enforce it on the ground?
And then, if I may, could you just clarify the next steps that need to happen before talks to achieve a short-term ceasefire kick off? Or are those starting directly? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Hey, Daphne, thanks for the question. I think it might be helpful to step backwards and consider what we’ve really been trying to do here, right? So we see these two forces locked in this brutal struggle for power, and we’ve been trying to convince them that there’s another way to handle their competition that doesn’t involve destroying their country. So we’ve been patiently working with the Saudis and consulting with other regional partners in Africa and the Arab world and the international community about how to build an alternative path, a path of negotiation.
Frankly, I say to them that at some point the fighting is going to stop; I’d like it to stop tomorrow; but whenever it stops, you’re going to have to talk to one another. This is a feature of all conflicts. At some point you sit down and have negotiations, and that is what we are trying to do and trying to impress upon them. And that’s been, as [Senior State Department Official Two] said, a part of the discussions we’ve had now that we’ve been able to see them face-to-face over the past six days.
So given the depth of enmity, I think given the inflamed passions as a result of the fighting since the 15th of April, and given the struggle for dominance, we don’t see an easy solution to this, which is why we were focused in the near term on moving from this important document, which sets the frame, to moving as quickly as possible into real discussions about how they’re going to move around to allow the steps that we’ve enumerated.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Amina Sriri from Sky News Arabia.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. I have two questions. The first one, I want just to clarify something. So both parties, these forces (inaudible), they’re staying in Jeddah for the next conversations? And the second question regarding the mechanism to monitor the ceasefire, so it’s going to be controlled by whom exactly? And did you explain to both parties the future measures that will be taken in case one of the party didn’t respect the ceasefire? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks. If I understood your first question, you were asking whether the two delegations representing the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Security Forces, would they stay and continue to participate in the negotiations? Is that what you asked? The answer is yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, great. And then I’m going hand the phone to [Senior State Department Official Two] to talk a little bit about the ceasefire mechanism that we’ve been building.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Just on the ceasefire mechanism, so it’s a combination of different elements. It includes some overhead imagery, and including satellite data. And it also includes some technology that allows us to do artificial – use artificial intelligence to look at social media messages and key those to reports of ceasefire violations, and see if there are images or text that illuminates what might have happened at particular places where there are allegedly violations.
And it also then includes the old-fashioned element of on-the-ground reporting, if you will, or monitoring. And this is where I think the role of Sudanese civil society and actors like the resistance committees who are already doing that work and have been pushing it to the international community – and I would add, often doing it at great risk – becomes very important.
So it’s that that combination of three principal elements: the overhead imagery, including thermal imagery that allows us to see heat signatures of weapons; as well as the social media analysis; and then the on-the-ground reporting. And really the sort of secret sauce, if you will, of the mechanism is that it allows us to use those three things in combination in a way that gives us much greater fidelity about what we think happened and some ability – not perfect, but some ability – to determine attribution in cases where there have been violations of the ceasefire. Hope that helps.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Karen DeYoung, Washington Post.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) was sort of an amalgam of the previous two. But I just want to make sure I’m clear on this, that that what they’ve done is agreed that this is a goal that they want to figure out a way to achieve. It doesn’t mean that anything happens tomorrow, anybody’s going to stop fighting, it’s – there’s going to be easier humanitarian access. It’s that now they’ve both committed themselves to say, “This is what we want to achieve. Now we’ve agreed to talk about what we have to do to achieve it.” Is that more or less correct?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Yeah, that’s a great summary. Thank you for that. And again, I think we have some momentum going on those discussions because they’ve been part of our talks over the past six days. So we’re hoping we can move fairly directly into action.
QUESTION: What – do you – would you have any timeframe for that? I mean, what – talking about a couple days, a week? How long?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I think it would be – it’s a little bit hard to predict tonight. Also the – frankly, the folks who came, Karen, were as exhausted and drawn out as the people living under this terrible fighting in Khartoum, although they’re now living here in safety, but they’re worried about their family and their colleagues. So – and tomorrow is Friday, as you know, in the Muslim world. But they seem committed to get going. We and the Saudi side are committed. The humanitarian partners we’re talking to are anxious to get going. So I expect we’ll begin talks as early as tomorrow, and they will go through the next few days, and we will move as fast as we can with the parties to get to actual actions.
We’ve already made specific recommendations to each side to take actions, and some of that is happening. So there does seem to be some genuine interest in moving forward, and everybody’s, I think, eager to go.
MODERATOR: Thanks. Jennifer Hansler, CNN.
QUESTION: Hi. Thanks so much for doing the call. I wanted to follow up on the ceasefire monitoring mechanism. Is there any sort of, I guess, stick for if the parties violate the ceasefire? Will there be any punitive measures if they violate it particularly as these activities are being undertaken? Thank you.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thanks for the good question. So a couple of things in response to it.
One, we very much have in view establishing a committee that the actual ceasefire monitoring mechanism would report to or engage with that would include representatives from both the SAF and the RSF but also from representatives of the international community. We had actually discussed this with the two sides on the ground as early as April 17th when the embassy team was still in Khartoum and the UN’s special representative of the secretary-general and I were trying to broker some Khartoum-only ceasefires. And we got agreement at that point for that same structure in principle, so a SAF and an RSF rep and then some international reps. And the goal would be to use that committee for two things: one, to – for the two sides to be able to submit reports of violations of the ceasefire, presumably by the other side, and for that to get them passed down to the ceasefire monitoring mechanism folks to take a look with their resources at what we think might have happened; and also as the mechanism or portal through which information generated by that ceasefire monitoring mechanism platform gets pushed to the two sides, the SAF and the RSF.
In terms of sticks, I think the biggest one here would frankly be public attribution where it’s possible to do that with a high degree of fidelity; that is, where we’ve been able to determine with a high degree of confidence which side committed violations. Even in cases where we’re not able to determine which of the parties committed specific acts, we should be able to determine that some acts occurred. And that in itself I think has utility, in part because – and this isn’t, I think, news to anybody – there has been a lot of propaganda now that there’s a shooting conflict going on and a lot of misinformation and disinformation alleging various acts of perfidy by the other side. And one of the things that we sensed both sides very much wanted was some third-party mechanism that would allow them to have greater surety about who was committing various violations.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Actually, [Senior State Department Official Two], let me add. It wasn’t a sense. They specifically requested that we develop this mechanism, which we did very quickly to try and support these talks so that the – we could get to a meaningful ceasefire. And I think that’s a good sign that they both wanted the mechanism and could be an indicator that we could achieve more compliance.
I think it’s also important to note that this process will enable us to document to an international legal standard what’s going on, and that will be important in the future for accountability.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Unfortunately, we have time for only one more question, and that will go to Howard LaFranchi from the Christian Science Monitor.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for doing this. I wanted to ask a regional impact question. I’m wondering if you’re expecting just this, as you say, modest initial commitment from the parties on humanitarian delivery to have any impact on the flow of Sudanese refugees across borders into neighboring countries – in some of the cases, as you also know, going into countries such as Chad that are already dealing with high levels of food insecurity and hunger. And then what you see as the prospects for averting kind of a larger regional humanitarian crisis that we – be caused by this war.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Thanks very much for raising that point. Not only are we very concerned about the impact this dreadful fighting is having on civilians and the stability and security of the nation, we and I think all of our partners in Africa, in the Arab world, and in the international community are gravely concerned about the regional consequences and the potential for regional instability. That’s one of the reasons everybody is working so hard to press for an end to this.
I think I’ve seen reports of an expectation of up to 900,000 refugees, which, as you noted, is like a terrible burden especially for our neighboring countries who are already struggling. In East Africa there’s been a drought. There’s a lot of underdevelopment and security and economic challenges in most of the neighboring countries. So that challenge is also, I think, giving impetus to our efforts.
I’m going to – if the schedule allows, I’m going to travel tomorrow to Addis Ababa to consult with the African Union and with IGAD, who will – we have – for those of you who aren’t steeped in Sudan, we have used what we refer to as a trilateral mechanism which is the UN, the AU – the African Union – and IGAD, I-G-A-D, which is an East African regional organization. It stands for Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which is a sort of meaningless name but it represents the East African regional bloc. They’ve been our partners in supporting the democratic transition negotiations that [Senior State Department Official Two] discussed, and I think they will be part of any mechanism that the AU puts together to support, again, this sort of long process to get to a permanent cessation of hostilities.
There is also a diplomatic configuration referred to as the quartet, which includes – I’m sorry, I’m mixing up my diplomatic configurations. It’s the quad, not the quartet, which includes the Saudis, the Emiratis, the UK, and the U.S. That grouping has also been an important forcing function in the democratic transition talks and is also interested and supporting. There are other important players like the Arab League, like the EU, the neighboring countries. I mean, there’s a lot of concern from everybody to try and get ahead of this.
The last point I would like to make is we’re not only concerned about the refugees, but we’re also concerned about possible interference from external parties perhaps siding with one or the other of the Sudanese forces. Such action would only inflame the intensity of the conflict and prolong it, so we all need to be on guard about that the aspect of the regional problems.
So thanks for letting me address that. I’m really glad you raised that. It’s an important component of what we’re trying to do.
MODERATOR: Thank you so much. And unfortunately, that concludes this evening’s call which, as a reminder, was on background to senior State Department officials. The embargo on this call is now lifted. Thank you all so much for joining us. Have a great night.
On the Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Civilians of Sudan
Office of the Spokesperson
May 11, 2023