Less than four months before citizens in South Sudan are set to vote on whether to secede from the largest nation in Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly acknowledged what many Sudan experts have warned for years: "The situation [in Sudan] is a ticking time bomb of enormous consequences."
Clinton's ninth-hour assessment raises an urgent question: Is it too late to defuse it before Sudan is hurled back into civil war?
After nearly two years of murky policy on Sudan, President Obama was set to meet with Sudanese leaders for the first time in his presidency at a UN meeting on Sept. 24. Other top administration officials-including Clinton and National Security Adviser James L. Jones-pressed Sudanese leaders to complete arrangements for a credible referendum. It comes nearly six years after Sudanese leaders from the North and South signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement to end two decades of civil war that killed an estimated 2 million Sudanese citizens and drove some 4 million Southerners from their homes.
Leonard Leo, chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, says U.S. officials should help South Sudan leaders prepare for the referendum-and for governing if they win. Leo says the Obama administration has been marshaling technical advisers who could help an independent South Sudan with issues like security, infrastructure, and a failing judicial system, but he admits preparing for independence remains a "Herculean task."