ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — U.S. officials voiced pessimism Sunday about the prospect of a peace and power-sharing agreement in South Sudan as President Barack Obama prepared to hold talks on the crisis with African leaders.
Obama’s meeting in Ethiopia on Monday comes as an Aug. 17 deadline to reach a deal approaches. Senior Obama administration officials said if there’s no agreement, the U.S. and other nations would deepen pressure on South Sudan’s warring factions, possibly through increased sanctions and the pursuit of an arms embargo.
South Sudan was thrown into conflict in December 2013 by a clash between forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer, and President Salva Kiir, a Dinka. The fighting has spurred a humanitarian crisis, throwing the world’s newest nation into turmoil four years after its inception.
One official said the U.S. sees the two sides as “utterly indifferent” to the country’s suffering. The officials insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the U.S. position heading into Monday’s talks.
The U.S. was instrumental in backing South Sudan’s bid for independence, which was overwhelmingly supported by the country’s people. Obama has described the current situation there as “dire” and called on leaders to put their country first.
Obama will be joined in the talks by the leaders of Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, along with the chairwoman of the African Union and the foreign minister of Sudan. The meeting comes during Obama’s visit to Ethiopia, where he arrived Sunday evening. He is the first U.S. president to visit the East African nation.
Obama had no plans to meet any representatives from South Sudan while in neighboring Ethiopia, officials said, suggesting such discussions would be unproductive.
Instead, officials said the goal of Monday’s meeting was to send the message that the U.S. and its African partners are united in their commitment to ramp up pressure on both sides unless there’s a resolution to the crisis.
South Sudan’s conflict has forced over 2 million people from their homes, including 730,000 to neighboring countries. Inflation has skyrocketed, with the South Sudanese pound losing more than half its value this year against the U.S. dollar. And families risk starving to death in the Greater Upper Nile region where fighting is most intense, according to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network.
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