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Why Does S. Sudan Matter So Much to the US?


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Oct 17, 2012
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It wasn't so much a collective sigh of relief when President Salva Kiir finally signed the peace deal this week. It was more a sense of "let's see" as the US issued a warning that it would "hold to account" any of the leaders who might stray from their public commitment.
For the moment, the champagne is being kept on ice.
After more than a year and a half of hostilities and failed peace efforts, threats of sanctions and possible war crimes charges by the US followed.
President Obama has been left feeling deeply unimpressed by the South Sudanese leadership. During his recent East Africa visit there was talk of a "Plan B" if the two parties failed to sign a deal.
A deadline was set and when Salva Kiir stalled and called for more time, Washington deployed its National Security Advisor Susan Rice for some straight talking.
She ditched the diplomatic niceties and singled out the South Sudan president, declaring Washington "deeply disappointed" that he had "squandered" the opportunity to bring peace.
A week or so earlier she delivered another salvo, warning that the leadership was putting its own selfish interests ahead of the nation. Although the US has been deeply frustrated at the impasse, it's clear that it had no plans to simply walk away.
So why does the US care so deeply about South Sudan?

Key points of peace deal:

* Fighting to stop immediately. Soldiers to be confined to barracks in 30 days, foreign forces to leave within 45 days, and child soldiers and prisoners of war freed
* All military forces to leave the capital, Juba, to be replaced by unspecified "guard forces" and Joint Integrated Police
* Rebels get post of "first vice-president"
* Transitional government of national unity to take office in 90 days and govern for 30 months
* Elections to be held 60 days before end of transitional government's mandate
* Commission for Truth, Reconciliation and Healing to investigate human rights violations
The US in general and President Obama in particular, have been looking for a "success story" in Africa. There are of course millions of individual success stories but collectively, like so many other global leaders, they thought they had it when on 9 July 2011 South Sudan became the world's newest state.
But secession from Sudan and the government in Khartoum was not a magic bullet.
Former Congressman Tom Andrews recalled to me from Washington how he had been in the town of Juba for the birth of South Sudan "literally going to sleep in one country and waking up in another without moving".
That sense of optimism was quickly replaced by a mood of "despair" felt by many ordinary citizens. America had a "special relationship" with the country and so felt a "special responsibility" to help.
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