The White House

Office of the Press Secretary

Readout of the Ministerial Meeting on Sudan by NSC Chief of Staff Denis McDonough

Waldorf-Astoria, New York, New York

4:47 P.M. EDT
    
     MR. HAMMER:  Good afternoon, everybody.  Denis McDonough, our National Security Council Chief of Staff, just came from the Sudan meeting and we thought it’d be useful for him to give you a brief readout and take some of your questions specifically on that topic.
 
     Denis.
 
     MR. McDONOUGH:  Thanks a lot, Mike, and the meeting is obviously still going on, as I think many of you have seen.  And I think you have just got a copy of the President’s remarks and I think many of you were able to watch him on the televisions here.
 
     I would just say -- I want to just spend a couple of minutes on the communiqué that came out of the meeting today.  We believe that the communiqué is a historic achievement.  It’s an unprecedented show of global unity in which the world communicates loudly and firmly that the referenda called for in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement must be held on January 9th and the results must be and will be respected.
    
     I think you heard from both the Vice Presidents who came from Sudan -- Vice President Kiir and Vice President Taha -- that they intend to meet that -- those target dates and to respect the outcome of those referenda whatever the outcomes are.
 
     We believe it’s a strong and detailed communiqué that brings together the more than 40 countries and international organizations, the two CPA parties, the African Union, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, around commitments for the Sudanese to undertake.  It makes it clear that the core objective of the international community and all stakeholders in Sudan is the peaceful coexistence of the people of Sudan -- democratic governance, accountability, equality, respect, justice, and the establish of conditions for the conflict-affected communities to build strong, sustainable livelihoods. 
 
     And it includes specific commitments as follows:  To hold peaceful and credible referenda that reflect the will of the people on January 9th.  It makes it clear that the CPA parties bear the primary responsibility to carry out those referenda and meeting the CPA commitments, and that those CPA commitments don’t end with the referendums -- with the referenda. 
 
     They commit, importantly, and you heard this from the Vice Presidents, to respect the outcome of the referenda, and that they will be carried out within the framework of the agreement; that they will resolve the most critical issues necessary to provide a peace -- a path of peace and prosperity to all Sudanese regardless of the outcome; underscores concern about the situation, the humanitarian situation in southern Sudan; and underscores the need to develop governance capabilities -- again, regardless of the outcome of the referenda; expresses, importantly, concern about the security situation in Darfur; supports ending the conflict in Darfur; protecting civilians and calls for a halt of the arms flow into the region; and, importantly, underscores the principles of compensation, justice, and reconciliation in Darfur. 
 
     And last thing on this, as it relates to Darfur, there was a very clear call -- again, echoed importantly by the two parties to the agreement, both the government of Southern Sudan and the government of Sudan -- to an end of impunity in Darfur.
 
     So, again, we think it was a historic communiqué that addresses issues as it relates to the CPA, importantly making the commitment that the referenda will be held on time, and also addresses the issues of accountability and impunity around Darfur as well.
    
     So I’ll leave it at that and open it up to your questions.
 
     Q    If in fact the referendum goes ahead on the 9th and you end up with what seems to be a credible election for a separate state, would the U.S. be prepared to recognize Southern Sudan as a separate state?
 
     MR. MCDONOUGH:  You know, what we’re prepared to say today, David, is that we are prepared to, as the parties themselves said today, recognize and honor the outcome of the referenda, that they should be held on time, peacefully, and that everybody -- the more than 40 parties here that were in the meeting today, and the meeting is still going on as I suggested -- intent to respect the outcome of it regardless of the outcome. 
 
We’ve also been, obviously, aggressively working with the parties.  Scott has been in the region 20 times.  Secretary Clinton has been having meetings all this week.  And the President obviously has been having discussions this week.  And we’ve laid out a diplomatic plan -- obligations and responsibilities of both of the parties going forward.  So I think they have a clear understand of what we hope to hear from them and what we intend to do if they meet those targets.
 
Q    Denis, there may be a distinction, a difference that I’m not understanding, but if you’re going to honor the outcome of the referendum -- and the referendum obviously is to create a separate state -- isn’t that the equivalent of saying that you would recognize the state if that was the outcome?
 
MR. MCDONOUGH:  What I’m saying right now is I don’t want to -- I don’t want to jump to any conclusions of what the outcome of the elections will be -- of the referendum would be.  But I’m telling you that --
 
Q    But you will honor it either way?
 
MR. MCDONOUGH:  That’s exactly what the party said today and that’s exactly what we’ve said all along on this.
 
Q    Denis, as I understand it, the preparations for the referendum are woefully behind.  Aside from the declarations today, is there anything in the communiqué or anything was agreed at the meeting in terms of increased assistance to speed up the process?
 
MR. MCDONOUGH:  I think it’s a -- yes, it’s a fair question, and I think that you heard in the President’s remarks today that obviously he recognized that there’s been important progress on the referenda, but that it is still behind.  Both of the parties, both the vice presidents, just committed again to the date and to making the necessary steps to meet the date.
 
I would just say a couple of things as it relates to this, Warren.  Before the President announced his participation in this meeting, we were running into a series of roadblocks to include the unwillingness or inability of the referendum commission to order the referendum materials to conduct the referendum.  We obviously still -- that’s changed.  Early last week, the referendum commission went out and ordered those documents and those materials.  That’s an important step and one that had been long in coming and is now underway.
 
The referendum commission has also released a series of important budget support to conduct the referendum.  We think that’s also a positive step directly an outcome of the high-level attention of the international community as a result of today’s meeting. 
 
Those are two positive steps.  We’re looking for more.  Obviously, the CPA, for example, calls for a period of 90 days for registration for voters in the referendum.  That’s going to be compressed now.  But we’re continuing to work with the parties, with the U.N., with USAID, to make sure that this -- these referenda come off on time, peacefully, and in a way that recognizes the will of the people of southern Sudan.
 
Q    How about a question on the Middle East?
 
MR. MCDONOUGH:  You are welcome to ask whatever questions you want.  I’ll see if I can answer them.
 
Q    Can you give us a status of talks between the U.S. and Israeli and Palestinian officials ahead of the freeze this week?
 
MR. MCDONOUGH:  What I would say is that, as the President outlined yesterday in his remarks, we obviously continue to work this very aggressively.  I think, importantly, there is -- continues to be very productive discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  And obviously the United States is working on those.  Secretary Clinton is leading the charge and working this very aggressively.  But we don’t have any big announcements yet on that, Julianna, but we are continuing to work it very aggressively.
 
Q    President Ahmadinejad said today that he believes that as early as next month there will be a resumption of talks with the P5-plus-1.  Have you gotten through any channels any indications that in fact they’re really ready to set a date, they’re really ready to go back?  And on what terms would the U.S. go back?
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  You know, the EU foreign policy chief, Kathy Ashton, reached out to the Iranians earlier this year to underscore their -- our interest, and that is to say the P5-plus-1’s interest, in resuming those talks.  She’s reached out and hasn’t heard back.  So when we hear back and when she hears back, then we’ll know whether they’re serious or not.
 
Q    And are we willing to talk just on the TRR or do you want this to be a broader --
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  We’ve been very clear that we have, as the President made clear yesterday, that we have a range of concerns and he made clear this morning on BBC Persian that we have a range of concerns that focus on the illicit nuclear program.  Obviously the TRR is an important step, but by no means addresses the main issue about which we have concern.  And the President also outlined additional concerns today on BBC Persian to include support for terrorism, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and our ongoing concerns about human rights.
 
Q    Do you see anything in the sort of histrionics of Ahmadinejad this week that reflect what might be increased sort of domestic political pressure on him, perhaps more impact from sanctions than they might have expected?
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  Hard for me to draw anything from the hateful and -- the hateful comments from President Ahmadinejad.  We do believe that, obviously, his government probably is under pressure as a result of what appears to be economic mismanagement.  And obviously we and many others have talked to all of you, and I know Robert has talked to you and Mike has talked to you, about what appears to be Iranian concern about the impact of the sanctions.  As the President made clear today, that the -- there’s a way for the government of Iran to alleviate the pressure of those sanctions, which is to suspend the illicit nuclear program and to live up to its responsibilities to the international community as it relates to that nuclear program.  And we’re hopeful that it will do so.
 
Julianna.
    
Q    Is the administration concerned at all that the legislation passed out of the House Ways and Means Committee today might increase frictions with China?
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  I’m sorry, I haven’t been following the House debate.  So is it -- was it --
 
Q    That is -- let me --
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  Is this the Ryan bill, I think -- has to do with --
 
Q    -- the legislation to slap duties on --
 
Q    A tariff.
 
Q    -- countries that have undervalued currencies.
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  I see.  Well, I haven’t seen the bill, Julianna, and I’m not aware -- maybe it was -- I had seen a version of it.  Maybe it was amended or something today, so I wouldn’t necessarily comment on the --
 
Q    -- legislation that puts additional pressure on China to --
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  What I would say on that is that obviously the President -- I think it was reported in all -- by several very valuable members of the American press corps and the White House press corps and your various newspapers today that the President had a productive conversation with Premier Wen yesterday.  This was one of the issues that the President discussed with him.  We’ve obviously seen some appreciation in the currency, and if that continues that would be significant.
 
Q    Do you have any reaction to the Japanese officials released the Chinese fisherman who has captured off the Senkaku island?
 
MR. McDONOUGH:  I don’t.
 
Q    Back on Ahmadinejad.  I don’t have a complete list of all the delegations that walked out yesterday or issued statements of denunciation, but it seems to be mostly European countries, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand.  Are you at all disappointed there hasn’t been more of an outcry from other parts of the world, particularly the Arab world?  Or have you heard things that we haven’t heard?
    
     MR. McDONOUGH:  You know, we’ve been in meetings off and on all day today, Warren, so I -- it could be that others have said things and I haven’t been aware of them. 
 
     I would say, as the President did today on BBC Persian, that what’s most striking about the hateful remarks is the extent to which they so fundamentally are at odds with the actions that the Iranian people took after -- the day after that heinous attack when there were candlelight vigils, public expressions of support for the United States, and against the hateful attacks that were undertaken that day.
 
     So I think that’s the most striking contrast that I’ve seen as a result of what he had to say today -- yesterday.
 
     Why don’t we take one more, then I got to go.
 
     Q    (Inaudible) -- just on Sudan, how do you think how U.S.A. administration will make sure the referendum will be -- will have credibility for both sides?  And how do you -- what do you think about international community providing some assistance on the referendum?
 
     MR. McDONOUGH:  Well, as the President laid out and as both Vice President Taha and Vice President Kiir indicated, that they intend to carry out the referendum on time, peacefully, and in conjunction with the requirements of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  Those -- if it’s carried out in such a manner, that would obviously be in a way that would maximize its credibility.
 
     And we and other members of the international community are working with both parties to ensure that they have what they need to ensure a credible outcome in that election.  But we’re heartened by the fact that today both parties indicated, as did the 41 countries and international organizations that participated in the high-level meeting that the Secretary-General hosted today, that these referenda will take place on time, peacefully, and in a way that will reflect the will of the Sudanese people.
 
     Okay.
 
     MR. HAMMER:  Terrific.  Thank you very much.
 
     MR. McDONOUGH:  Thanks, everybody.
 
END           5:02 P.M. EDT

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