Osman Mirghani

Is There Any Hope For The Sudan Negotiations?

In his announcement the day before yesterday that the Jeddah Platform negotiations to end the Sudanese war could resume on April 18th, the US Special Envoy Tom Perriello said that several recent shifts have increased the likelihood of resolving the conflict. To avoid creating an unwarranted sense of optimism, however, he quickly added that there is no more than a 50 percent chance of success.
This diplomatic rhetoric, which combines opposites, clearly demonstrates that difficulties remain. The impediments of the previous rounds of talks in Jeddah remain; indeed, they may have hardened. Since negotiations were suspended in early December, the Rapid Support Forces have swept through the Gezira and committed gross human rights violations, and the capital, especially the city of Omdurman, has seen fierce battles that have enabled the army to gain absolute control, failing to seize only a few pockets.
There are some indications and statements from the army leadership that suggest it is currently preparing to launch the battle for Khartoum. It is also mobilizing large numbers of soldiers to liberate Gezira, and that battle is expected to begin imminently. On the other hand, there are reports that the Rapid Support Forces are mobilizing to attack the city of El Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, after having received a large shipment of arms from abroad. This mobilization suggests that military escalation is more likely than diplomatic negotiations, and these battles will not only have a significant impact on the battlefield but will also determine the likelihood of the Jeddah Platform negotiations resuming on the date proposed by the US Special Envoy and the matters that will be discussed in these negotiations, as well as determining who will participate in the talks.
There's also the question of the political track, which has become more complicated. The positions of the parties concerned are drifting further apart as Sudan becomes increasingly polarized. Although the US Special Envoy held intensive meetings with different political parties outside Sudan, he did not hint, neither directly nor indirectly, that civilians could potentially take part in the Jeddah Platform negotiations, despite the fact that the Sudanese Coordination of Civil Democratic Forces has demanded that it be allowed to take part.
Perriello's statements and the positions expressed by the US administration and Congress indicate that Washington intends to move on three fronts:
● First, they want to merge the various platforms and initiatives into a single platform, the Jeddah Platform, as it is the only one that has been agreed upon, while there are disagreements, tensions, and doubts regarding other mediation efforts, especially those of IGAD. Indeed, IGAD's mediation is doomed to fail, as Sudan has accused some member countries of bias in favor of the Rapid Support Forces. In his comments about the initiatives, Perriello said: "We are thinking of our African and regional counterparts." He indicated that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates could also participate. However, he seemed aware of the problems that adding participants to negotiations could be objected to. “We understand that we don’t necessarily need a thousand actors there. That can create its own chaos. We are trying to figure out what combination of actors and incentives can bring this war to an end".
● Secondly, they want to bring both sides of the conflict to the negotiation table and work on dealing with the factors fueling the conflict. This includes stopping foreign interventions and arms supplies, a demand that has been reiterated by the US administration several times and was mentioned by Perriello.
● Thirdly, they want to accelerate the humanitarian efforts to ensure the delivery of aid to address this critical crisis, especially in Darfur and refugee camps. That is why Perriello proposed April 18th, a few days apart from the humanitarian conference hosted by France on April 15th, as the date for resuming the Jeddah Platform talks. The conference in France will discuss relief efforts and ways to increase aid after the United Nations warned, on several occasions, that it has received only 4 percent of the urgent contributions it had requested.
In his first month in office, Perriello has shown clear enthusiasm for his mission, as expected. He began with an extensive regional tour and held several meetings with Sudanese civilian parties. However, if it hasn't already, the scale of the challenges to resolving this crisis and achieving the task at hand will soon dawn on him. Timing is another problem, as this is an election year in the US, and the Biden administration is busy with the wars in Gaza and Ukraine. Moreover, he does not have enough experience working in Sudan, and his task will be made even more difficult by the fact the US does not have an embassy in Khartoum to assist him anymore, as the embassy staff was spread among several capitals following the war.
Congress is Perriello's biggest supporter. It has shown increasing concern for the Sudanese crisis. This concern was the reason the special envoy was appointed in the first place. The US Congress applied constant pressure on the White House and issued resolutions regarding the crisis. Last month, US lawmakers took the notable step of labeling the practices of the Rapid Support Forces and the militias allied with them in Darfur a "genocide" against particular ethnic and tribal groups, likening it to the events there in 2003 that compelled the George Bush administration to impose sanctions and for accountability and for these crimes. Clearly, Washington wants to use the threat of accountability and sanctions to pressure the parties in Sudan to complement Perriello's diplomatic efforts, in the hope that this will shorten the war to an end sooner.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ben Cardin voiced this sentiment in his address to the Senate this week. He told his fellow Senators that the US cannot remain silent about what is happening in Sudan and that it must take steps to end the war, urging the international community to take immediate action to address the humanitarian crisis and hold those responsible for war crimes accountable. Is this enough? Things are far more complicated. The Biden administration does not currently see Sudan as a priority, and Perriello's enemy is time in this election year. More importantly, the rift between the positions of the Sudanese parties seems to have grown wider over the course of this war, and much depends on what will happen on the battlefield in the coming weeks and perhaps days.