When President Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly in New York, he held up the example of South Sudan as the right way to join the world body — through a peace process and an independence vote.
"One year ago, when we met here in New York, the prospect of a successful referendum in South Sudan was in doubt," he said last week, "but the international community overcame old divisions to support the agreement that had been negotiated to give South Sudan self-determination."
Over the summer, South Sudan became independent, and its president was at the General Assembly to take his new nation's seat. Meanwhile, there's unfinished business in the peace process that divided Sudan into two.
Obama met with South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, to offer U.S. support in what will be a major development program. South Sudan is the size of Texas, but few of its roads are paved and there's little by way of infrastructure.
Kiir told the U.N. General Assembly on Friday that he needs all the help he can get.
"Our country is just two months and 14 days today, and you can see how many problems and challenges are ahead of us," he said.
Wearing his trademark cowboy hat and reading carefully off his script, Kiir said that this will not be the usual post-conflict rebuilding project.
"Even before the ravages of war could set in, our country never had anything worth rebuilding," he said.
This is building a nation from ground up, Kiir said, "and that is why we need you to partner us on this difficult journey."
He also needs to keep a peace process on track with his nation's former rulers in Khartoum. The two countries have yet to work out oil-sharing arrangements and define the borders. These days there's a new layer of tension: Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting rebellions in the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile provinces. Kiir rejects those allegations.
"The Republic of South Sudan categorically restates that it has not and will not interfere in any domestic conflict situation in the Republic of Sudan," he says.
That was one of the issues that Obama brought up when he met with Kiir last week, said Princeton Lyman, the U.S. envoy for Sudan. Lyman points out that the rebels in those regions were aligned with the South during the long, bloody civil war.
"We are also urging South Sudan not to let assistance — military assistance — flow to their former colleagues in the war, because that will only encourage the fighting," he says.
Lyman told NPR that he's working hard to get the North and the South talking about their outstanding differences, and he's encouraging Khartoum to resolve the underlying political troubles in those rebellious regions.
"So we are working in every direction, and we are also very, very concerned about humanitarian situation, particularly in Southern Korodofan, but it could also extend to Blue Nile," he says, "urging the government to allow World Food Program or other credible organization in. They haven't done that yet, and that's a big, big priority for us."
Lyman says the U.S. won't normalize relations with Khartoum as long as the fighting continues and as long as it has outstanding conflicts with the new nation, South Sudan.
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