Ultimately, a stable, peaceful and economically viable Sudan is essential for a stable, peaceful and prosperous South Sudan — and both are in America’s interests. Former South African President Thabo Mbeki deserves credit for encouraging leaders on both sides to make the necessary compromises for peace. But we have work to do together and responsibilities to exercise to get there.
The announcement of this new agreement was greeted with skepticism in many quarters. Fair enough: the history of Sudan is littered with the paper of potential breakthroughs that were never fulfilled. We are not naïve: this agreement could meet the same fate. We will be the first to admit that it was not a perfect deal—no compromise ever is. But as we saw with last year’s referendum and the South’s peaceful separation, real progress is possible when both sides are committed to peace and necessary compromise.
The challenge now is for the two parties to translate this agreement into action and work constructively to resolve the outstanding issues. Forces from the demilitarized border zone must be withdrawn and monitors to the joint mission must be deployed promptly to patrol this area. Oil fields and pipelines need to be rehabilitated. Cross-border corridors should be opened. And communities on both sides need to realize the concrete economic benefits that come with greater security.
Just as important as implementing what’s in the agreement is addressing what is not. The status of the territory of Abyei must be resolved. We hope that the African Union Peace and Security Council will act on the referendum approach that President Mbeki proposed in Addis. For years, Abyei has been synonymous with conflict and contestation, but it does not have to be.
Within Sudan, conflict continues in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile states. Sudan’s instability has significant implications for the entire region. Khartoum will never know peace until it comes to terms with the diversity of its so-called periphery. That includes Darfur, where fighting again rages. And while a political settlement and national dialogue are essential, the need for humanitarian access is even more urgent. People are starving in the Nuba Mountains. Hungry children cannot wait. South Sudan, too, faces its own challenges of governance and development.
The people of Sudan and South Sudan must own their future, but the United States can play a role in supporting them on the road to peace. Just as we helped navigate the complex currents that led to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement and last year’s historic referendum, we can nurture this process through diplomatic engagement and continued humanitarian assistance. The United States remains committed to the cause of peace between and within both Sudans, but make no mistake: the choices necessary to move forward lie with the leaders in Khartoum and Juba.
War has taken a heavy toll on this region. Sudan and South Sudan now have an opportunity to create a better, more peaceful and more prosperous future for their people. If this agreement is implemented, it will go down in history as a major milestone toward reconciliation and economic development. But if it is allowed to blow away in the winds of the coming dry season — which is traditionally “fighting season” in Sudan — then a real opportunity for regional stability will have been wasted.
The innocent people of this region have borne the horrific cost of war. Now it is time for them to experience the benefits of peace.
Kerry is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Isakson is a membeer of the committtee.