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Obama presses for Sudan solution

Referendum over independence of South from North seen as key.

The rhetoric on Sudan, like the diplomacy, is being ramped up. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Sudan as, “a ticking time bomb of enormous consequence,” when speaking at Washington’s Council on Foreign Relations think tank this month.

Like many regional analysts and southern Sudanese people, Clinton sees a vote for independence as “inevitable” but acknowledges that it will be “a very hard decision for the north to accept.”

Oil is the problem, but may also be the solution. Sudan’s vast oil fields are mostly in the south so the north is against secession while the south is eager for it.

“If you’re in the north and all of a sudden you think a line’s going to be drawn and you’re going to lose 80 percent of the oil revenues, you’re not a very enthusiastic participant,” Clinton said, then asking, "What are the deals that can possibly be made that will limit the potential of violence?”

The issue is not clear cut, however. The ruin of poverty-stricken southern Sudan means it lacks the vital infrastructure to profit from the oil reserves without exporting it via pipelines that run north. The hope is that an agreement to share revenues can be struck that benefits both north and south and makes profit more attractive than war.

“The future of Sudan is hanging in the balance,” said the president of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, to the influential U.S. Congressional Black Caucus. 

Describing the Jan. 9 referendum date as “sacrosanct” Kiir said: “The weight of our history, the depths of our peoples’ suffering and corresponding expectations, the promises of their leaders both in the North and South, and the guarantees of the international community create no space for wavering on this.”