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U.S. makes conditional offer for improved relations with Sudan

By the CNN Wire Staff
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, right, meets with Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salaheddine in Khartoum, Sudan, on Satuday.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry, right, meets with Sudanese presidential adviser Ghazi Salaheddine in Khartoum, Sudan, on Satuday.
  • Sudan could be removed from the U.S. list of terror sponsors next year
  • President Obama wants Sudan to accept the results of an upcoming referendum
  • Sen. Kerry travels to Sudan to deliver the proposal
  • Sudan
  • Africa
  • Darfur

Washington (CNN) -- The Obama administration has offered to speed up Sudan's removal from its list of state sponsors of terrorism if the Khartoum government fulfills its obligations under a 2005 peace accord, senior State Department officials confirmed Monday.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, presented the proposal to Sudanese officials during a weekend visit, the officials told reporters on background, meaning the information cannot be attributed to them by name.

The proposal has no impact on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir's arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, the officials said. It also is separate from U.S. sanctions against Sudan over the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region, they said.

The U.S. proposal to the East African nation called for dropping Sudan from the terrorism sponsor's list in mid-2011 if Bashir's government recognizes the results of the upcoming secession referendum by south Sudan, the State Department officials said.

Sudan was included on the U.S. list in 1993 and has been pushing for years to be removed, the officials said. Prior to the new administration proposal, the earliest possible date for removing Sudan from the list was considered to be the end of 2011 or in 2012, they said.

The referendum, part of a 2005 peace agreement, would allow the autonomous southern region -- which holds a majority of the nation's oil -- to secede from the north. The two-decade conflict led to the deaths of 2 million people, many from starvation.

Kerry said in a statement that President Barack Obama "made clear in the proposal conveyed this weekend that if Sudan's leaders take concrete steps to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, including recognizing the results of the referendum in January, he is prepared to immediately take significant steps to begin to transform the bilateral relationship."

The secession referendum is considered a possible make-or-break event for the peace accord. Observers fear all-out war between the Khartoum-controlled north and southern Sudan if the government is perceived to have undermined the voting or refuses to accept the result.

The Sudanese peace agreement also calls for a separate referendum for residents of Abyei, a border area that has oil reserves, to decide if they want to join the north or south.

According to the State Department officials, the U.S. proposal is intended to encourage Sudan to fulfill its obligations under the peace agreement and therefore has no direct connection to the Darfur sanctions.

"By doing this, we would also be decoupling the state sponsor of terrorism from Darfur and from the Darfur issue," one of the officials said. "But by doing this, we would in no way undermine the importance that we attach to having a resolution of the humanitarian and political problems that have plagued Darfur for the last decade."

Kerry also said the Darfur situation was part of the overall formula for improved relations with Washington.

"I made clear in every meeting that many steps on the road to improved relations could only be taken with real progress in achieving lasting peace and security in Darfur," Kerry's statement said. "The United States stands ready to help, but the choices necessary to move forward ultimately lie with the Sudanese leaders."

Darfur, in western Sudan, has been beset by conflict since 2003 after rebels began an uprising against the Sudanese government.

To counter the rebels, Arab militias with ties to the Sudanese government went from village to village in Darfur, killing, torturing and raping residents there, according to the United Nations, Western governments and human rights organizations. The militias targeted civilian members of tribes from which the rebels drew strength.

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 people have been killed in the conflict in Darfur, and 2.5 million have fled their homes. Sudan denies the death toll is that high.

CNN's Tom Cohen contributed to this story.