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Press Briefing on A Trip Report: Sudan

Speakers: George Clooney, Co-Founder, Not On Our Watch, and John Prendergast, Co-Founder, The Enough Project
Presider: Ann Curry, NBC News
October 12, 2010
Council on Foreign Relations


MS. : We're going to start.

MS. : Yeah -- (inaudible).

MS. : I want to thank George --


MS. : -- for -- (laughs) -- I want to thank George -- (inaudible).

MS. : And we're not going to thank each other for any more than that. (Cross talk.)

CLOONEY: Okay, that's a deal. That's --

(Cross talk.)

MS. : -- our -- one of our newest members of the Council on Foreign Relations --

CLOONEY: Am I one of the newest members?

MS. : One of the newest, and we're very proud to have you.

CLOONEY: Very happy to be a new member.

MS. : Very happy to have you.

(Cross talk.)

MS. : Ann Curry -- Ann Curry, welcome.

ANN CURRY: Hi, everybody.

MS. : Welcome.

CURRY: Thank you.

MS. : Ann is going to preside, moderate, and be -- and participate, I hope, during this. This is meant to be a conversation, as most of you know, who've been involved in Council press briefings, or other briefings in the past. This is not meant to be like a push of information. It's meant to be a conversation. And we want to hear what you have to say, and Ann is going to lead it off. And she was in Sudan, with George and with John, and she will tell you whatever you need to know if you hadn't been at the previous meeting.

And go for it, girlfriend. (Laughs.)

CURRY: Well, okay. Actually, I'm just trying to do a little -- take a little moment to talk to a few of you. I didn't get to all of you to find out sort of what you're interested in being here -- and I'm sure that many of you, if not all of you, know some of the issues here. I know that the invitation talked about me presiding. I'm not presiding over anything, except to maybe encourage an understanding about what's happened and what may happen over the upcoming months. Of course, I don't need to introduce John Prendergast or George Clooney, but except to say that I was lucky to have my team follow them as we were trying to get a handle on what exactly is happening in South Sudan.

And the easiest way I can sort of explain what's happening is -- everyone here knows a lot of what's happened in Darfur. And so the way to sort of understand what's happening in South Sudan is that the same people who are accused of genocide and war crimes and atrocities in Darfur are now turning their attention to the other -- to another part of that country, to South Sudan, and that in the coming months leading up to a vote in -- on January 9, there is a real risk that there'll be great tragedy in South Sudan, as there was in Darfur.

So George and John have been spearheading -- and I'm just the reporter trying to figure out the story, but they've been spearheading a real effort to have the American people and specifically people in this city understand what's going on. So I think that you should know that we -- that these people are representing a lot of major news organizations who are going to want to ask questions of you. And one of the first things, I think, is to understand sort of what you think in terms of news, what will be -- what you -- how you think this might play out. Today you met with President Obama and also with Richard Lugar and had conversations with Pelosi and --

CLOONEY: Kerry, Senator Kerry.

CURRY: -- Senator Kerry as well on the phone. So the question now is how this might play out, worst case scenario, best case scenario, leading up to -- so that we as newspeople can have a sense about how this might unfold and how we -- what our obligations might be in terms of covering this. Who wants to take that?

CLOONEY: John should take that. (Laughter.)

JOHN PRENDERGAST: Wait a minute. What is it, past 8:00 now?

CLOONEY: No, let's hear from somebody else. Listen, we've been -- were people there? Were you -- most of you down there?



CLOONEY: So, okay, well, if that -- if that's true, then we've been talking a long time, and it would be nice to hear other people's ideas, because, you know, I never learned anything from hearing myself talk.

QUESTIONER: Hi. I'm the White House correspondent for Canal Plus. I'm Laura Haim. And I have a question which has to do with all the people here, and you, Ann Curry, and you, George Clooney. It's very difficult in the American press to have stories about what's happening all over the world, and specifically in Sudan. I mean, it seems a daily fight for the American press to report about what's happening all over the world. How does it play in the Sudan aspect, and how are you going to fight that to educate the American public about what's happening in Sudan?

CLOONEY: Go news, news, newsperson.

CURRY: I'm just -- my job is to cover this story as I cover all the others.

I think that there is a specific obligation among newspeople to cover stories that raise questions about possible genocide and raise questions about atrocities and human suffering. I think we have a specific obligation that's beyond our normal obligation to cover those stories. And so I will continue to encourage my network to cover it, and I -- but I'm just one reporter in one network. But I intend to not drop the ball on this story at all, period. It's a --

QUESTIONER: But is it an easy fight for you?

CLOONEY: No, it's not an easy fight for her.

CURRY: But then winning is much --

CLOONEY: She fights -- and listen, she fights on a lot of stories. It's not just Sudan or Darfur, or -- I mean, she -- she's -- you know, let's be clear. This is not something new, you know? Edward R. Murrow used to have to do stories about Liberace so that he could talk about McCarthy. I mean, this is not like a brand new thing, and everybody here fights the same fight constantly to tell news stories.

My father used to talk to me -- my father was an anchorman, you know, was a -- wrote for a newspaper for 25 years and was an anchorman, but he was also a reporter and was a news director. And he would go try to tell, you know, stories, and he would go tell a very important story, and he would get bumped by a Liz Taylor story, and used to talk about it sort of angrily, you know.

And when I was reading all the Nick Kristof articles -- which is an interesting thing, because we all -- many of us ended up sort of learning about Darfur in some ways from Nick. You know, my father -- I called up my dad, and I said, you know, you've been so pissed off at this whole idea of celebrity and how it can create focus. You know, let's go there. You be the newsman, and I'll be Liz Taylor, you know? (Laughter.) And, I mean -- and I -- in some ways you have to understand it. There is a -- you know, you have to -- you have to pay the bills to keep the lights on, and it gets harder and harder and harder, and you guys are in the toughest business there is.

So any way you can keep the focus on -- I'm -- make no mistakes. I have no -- I have a great understanding of what my job is, right? I make -- I don't think of myself as a journalist, and I don't pretend to be a journalist. My job is to show up where journalists are because cameras follow. And that may feel unfortunate at times, but the truth is it seems to me the best way to spend your celebrity credit card. But it's a very tough time to get news out, I mean, news. And it's not -- it's not just the United States, as you know. You fight this, you know? You know, Canal Plus is not just -- do -- you know, there is a Justin Bieber story out there somewhere, right, where you go, are we really going to waste -- (laughter) -- you know, all that time talking about Lindsay Lohan in rehab when we could be talking about other things?

And everybody in this room who are journalists -- it bugs them. I'm the son of a journalist. I ran a teleprompter when I was 12 years old for my dad. I watched him, you know -- and that's when you edited by using a paper cutter, you know, and you cut it and taped it and pull it -- pushed it through. I watched how news was made and how -- and the -- and the decisions that were made along the way. You guys have the toughest job in the game, all of you, Ann, all of you have, because you're trying desperately to get news out in a world that is -- becomes increasingly more about marginalizing and product than people. So you have a very difficult job. All we're here to do is just say turn the volume up in this situation. That's it.

CURRY: Kirit?

QUESTIONER: Hi, Kirit Radia with ABC. I cover the State Department. I had a question for both of you. During your talk downstairs you talked a little bit about how the atmosphere in Washington has changed over the last couple months. There's maybe a little bit more focus on what's going on. I was curious if you could kind of elaborate on that. What have you seen? How has that changed a little bit? I mean, I recall when Scott Gration was first appointed he was criticized for focusing so much on the South and not on Darfur. So he's been focused on. I mean, where else have you seen this shift?

PRENDERGAST: I think you had a policy process in U.S. government that was -- you know, in October 2009 Gration and Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton outlined a new policy of the president, October 2009, which -- they said there were going to be quarterly meetings of the deputies in which they would review the policy. They would make recommendations about potential points of leverage, sticks and carrots.

QUESTIONER: Which they didn't.

PRENDERGAST: And they never did. They didn't do anything.

But it's not that they -- whether they said it or not publicly is almost irrelevant, because they never did any of the things they said they would do because they weren't seized with the matter at the higher levels. Now, of course, Susan's involved, but the -- otherwise, it was just sort of drifting. And particularly within the National Security Council at the senior-most levels, no one was working on it. And it appears to us from the outside -- what do we know, but from sort of the different angles that we've been able to pull the story together, is that President Obama a couple of months ago asked a lot of questions, was not at all satisfied with the answers, and lit a fire. And now you see Denis McDonough running an interagency process, almost every day meetings.

And they claim that they are -- Sudan is one of the most -- at the time that they spend the most on in the -- in the last month or two, the president decides he's going to go to this meeting in New York, which is going to be a ministerial meeting at the United Nations General Assembly. They've ramped it up.

CLOONEY: He showed up.

PRENDERGAST: And as you said, President -- Secretary Clinton has got in the game in a big way, as did National Security Advisor Jones, making calls on a regular basis to a number of world leaders, and including the Sudanese parties about their involvement. And then they dispatched someone who I think is one of the most able diplomats in the Foreign Service, retired Ambassador Princeton Lyman.

PRENDERGAST: These are all visible manifestations, I think, of an increased engagement. It's almost too late -- (laughs) -- but it isn't. And so I -- you know, the -- it's a qualitative and quantitative leap that has occurred as of two, two-and-a-half months ago in terms of U.S. government engagement on the basis of those metrics.

QUESTIONER: I was also curious, if I could follow up real quick. You mentioned it was almost too late. When is it too late? When do you -- when do you -- when do you think -- as it gets -- I mean, when do you get that -- past that point? I mean, it's --

CLOONEY: Well, when at the end of the day you can't solve the problem. I mean, when is it always too late? It's too late when, you know -- you know, I think that the one thing that was -- you know, listen, okay, it's a -- it is -- we'll all agree is the most politicized time we've seen maybe in our lifetimes, this election. And I can be a polarizing figure. I'm not quite, you know, Barbra Streisand, but I can be a pretty polarizing -- (laughter) -- figure. And, you know, the president -- the president doesn't necessarily need to have me showing up on his doorstep, because -- you know, I understand.

Look, my father ran for Congress in Kentucky as a Democrat. Good luck. And I couldn't campaign for him. I get it. I understand that. The president invited us there and took pictures and allowed, you know, a press spray at the end because he wants this to be publicized, because the truth is, this is not a political issue. This is something that he said, okay, wait, wait, wait, let's go. Let's get on it. Let's go. And you can feel the urgency. When we walked in that room -- and every -- all the players that were in there, and all of the people that were in there -- and Samantha Power, who we respect and think the world of, and Valerie Jarrett, who is just, you know, amazing. They're all in there going, okay, here's what we're doing. This is what we're working on.

And you can -- it's palpable in the room where you feel like, okay, this is -- let's get on this. And part of it is there -- you know, he -- he's very aware of the fact that, you know, we're going to come out and there's going to be a lot of people there, and we're going to be able to say, let's try to activate that -- the Save Darfur gang, you know, and to activate the -- you know, all of the other groups.

We're going to try and like --

PRENDERGAST: Particularly the religious groups.

CLOONEY: The religious groups again. You know, they were all there -- there were 70,000 people on the -- on the mall, how do we get them back? And so he's not shying away from that, and that tells you how in the middle of a very political season he's involved.

PRENDERGAST: And it is -- it is a personal involvement, you know. All of you have a lot of experience in presidential politics, but I worked for President Clinton, and we found many times that the system itself, pushing from bottom-up -- an issue related to Africa would have no success, because it just -- there was no (pay ?) to deal with these issues. But President Clinton, because he -- in his second term was when I worked there -- was personally engaged in -- (inaudible) -- punch his way down through the glass ceiling and bring an issue up to -- that otherwise wouldn't make it. You're seeing that now with President Obama. This is not a bottom-up thing. He said we're doing this. And it's clear he's setting the direction, and everyone's saying it from across the various Cabinet members.

CLOONEY: Twenty minutes today -- in a meeting, you know, he spent literally 20 minutes in a pretty busy time going, okay, let's go back -- so when -- (laughs) -- we sat down with him, he knows all the things that we know, and we were there. And, you know, okay, he's the president, but he's also got, you know, a few other things on his plate. So he's very involved in this. And I have to say it was a relief for us, honestly. It was a relief because we thought, okay, well, if this slides through, you know, then you get to turn around, and a lot of people can be heard.

CURRY: Lisa from CNN wants to ask a follow-up --

QUESTIONER: Hi. This is for John and Barbara (sp) over here. Like to follow up on that, and then kind of bring in something that Ann was saying about the fact that, you know, everyone got involved about Darfur, and, you know, now it's -- we're moving more towards the referendum issue. Are you afraid that it's -- that with -- both with the administration and with the leaders on the ground there's almost like a tradeoff?

You know, we can't do both at the same time. There's not a integrated approach to the Sudan issue. And, okay, we're going to -- you know, we're going to focus on Darfur at the expense of the CPA, and we're going to make progress on that, and we'll take some compromises on implementation of the CPA. And now that everyone's working towards the referendum, every -- all the energy is put towards, you know, securing a safe referendum, maybe taking compromises on what's going on in Darfur.

And are you afraid that that's happening in the administration and on the ground? Do you see that the government in Khartoum sees this as an opportunity to get away with some mischief on Darfur?

CURRY: Good question.

PRENDERGAST: That's been the case since 2003. That's been the case for both the Bush administration and Obama administration. They clearly very, very innocently focused on one thing at a time, which is precisely what the National Congress Party would like, and so when they've tried -- as you just said, they've been able to exploit that unipolar focus to maximum benefit in its divide and rule policies. So I think that the heartening that we -- George and I experienced today was the president saying, you know, we may have -- in effect, we may have limited capacities. In other words, we can't do both the Sudan -- we're not going to run the Sudan -- North/South peace talks in Darfur at the same time, but any consequence or benefit that the United States would be responsible for, any carrots or sticks, are going to be triggered by both the South and Darfur.

So in other words, he gets the idea of an all-Sudan policy, an integrated approach, and it's not something that's foreign, which it has been to the -- to people like General Gration.

So I think that -- you know, I think that's very heartening that at least the words are being put out that they're going to have a -- an integrated approach.

QUESTIONER: You're not worried about backsliding on Darfur?

PRENDERGAST: Of course I am.

CLOONEY: Yeah, of course. I mean, there's the thought that you don't backslide on -- I mean, you know, it always happens a little bit. I mean, the one thing we know is now the CPA and now the new vote, the referendum -- listen, North/South, there's oil involved. That's a bigger, you know, trigger. So they're going to be involved in that. The trick is to be able to turn that around and say listen, these carrots that we're talking about -- because remember, this is a very hard thing for anybody, not right, not left. Nobody wants to do any sort of carrot that's nice to a guy that's indicted for war crimes in any way. They don't want to play that way.

So, you know, somewhere along the way they're going to have to -- you know, the -- well, yeah, it's not -- actually, because I -- I'm not actually allowed to talk about that, come to think of it. (Laughter.) We actually -- we had a meeting --

(Cross talk.)

CLOONEY: -- no, we had a meeting with the president. He said don't talk about that. So --

(Cross talk.)

CLOONEY: Now, the president actually said give us a shot at this, and, you know --

QUESTIONER: Son of a newsman, not a newsman. (Laughter.)

CLOONEY: Yeah, no kidding.

CURRY: Jackson Diehl, though, who I love, who is the Washington Post editorial board editor, he's here, and I'm pleased to have you here. Will you ask -- talk to these guys?

QUESTIONER: John, do you have any sense of the -- of the kind of internal opposition that Bashir may be facing from Turabi and others in the event he actually were to decide to go forward with the referendum?

PRENDERGAST: It's a very good question. You know, we were just -- I was just talking to someone who had been to the presidential palace and then to the president's residence in Khartoum. He says he's never seen the number of tanks surrounding his -- personal protection has increased dramatically. There's a great paranoia on a number of levels. And I don't think Turabi's -- Turabi's one aspect of it, but it's -- usually, it's the guys right underneath him. So if he can be sold down the river for a price, if he can be sold down the river for -- you can imagine the kind of appeal to some of the -- some of the secondary and tertiary actors in the National Congress Party.

This guy has been such a lightning rod for 21 years for dictatorship, then genocide, now North/South, you know, war crimes, all these other things. Take him, send him off to the Hague, or neutralize him. Send him to Saudi Arabia, whatever, and you almost get a clean slate. I mean, I figure a lot of governments would say, you know what? Let's just let bygones by bygones. They dealt with that guy.

So he's very, very -- feels very, very insecure, and there are fault lines. They have nothing to do with ideology. They have nothing to do with sort of a different approach to the South right now. The fault lines are purely personal and relational alliances that -- where one group sees power being secured at the expense of another group in different ways. And so I think there are -- there is a great deal of -- what would the word be? Bubbling, sort of that -- the real -- a level of concern on the part of the president that did not exist a few years ago that comes from this imminent change that is about to occur. He is the guy that's going to be blamed for losing the South. He's the guy that is indicted for genocide. I mean, the list goes on and on and on.

And by the way, he's a figurehead. He's not the guy that makes all the decisions. It's a cabal. It's a group of people.

But this guy's been singled out. He's the guy that's gotten to sit in the chair for 21 years, but he's also now the guy that's -- all this -- the -- what do you call -- the sins get -- all transferred to scapegoat for everything that's happened there. And so that puts him in an extremely vulnerable position, and, you know, as diplomats, as negotiators, we've got to be using that and --

CLOONEY: And, you know, he's not just a scapegoat; he actually -- he's earned a few of those. But, yeah, you're right. No, that's exactly --

PRENDERGAST: The goat probably did something bad. (Laughter.) I've always been wondering --

CLOONEY: Don't eat the lamb, by the way, when you go there. Goes in like a lamb; comes out like a lion. (Laughter.)

CURRY: You guys can go ahead and call on who you want. I know Roland --

QUESTIONER: I just want to ask one thing. The label is Islamic North; Christian South.


QUESTIONER: But to what extent does religion play any kind of role in this particular struggle, or is it being used by either side, or both, as a kind of front for whatever else, you know, their aspirations are? The second thing, second question -- I know you love double questions -- is if this is -- if there is, in fact, a real religious issue here, is this a religious war in any way? And the footnote to that is -- (laughter).

CURRY: Now we're in trouble.

QUESTIONER: -- is you were in the South long enough, and if we're talking about, you know, religion being a kind of a resurgence in a country, which may or may not -- a section -- (inaudible) -- which may or not have discovered it. Certainly, when the British were there, there was very little talk, if I remember rightly, of Christians in Sudan. If the -- was Vatican in any way in evidence over there?

CLOONEY: Recently?

QUESTIONER: Yes, I mean, when you were there. Did you bump into monsignors?

CLOONEY: There's a lot of Catholics there.

CURRY: Lot of Catholics. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Well, that's --


QUESTIONER: So there would certainly be a Vatican interest.

CLOONEY: There is. I mean, there -- no. It's an interesting thing.

CURRY: Religious implications of this war -- did you --

CLOONEY: Well, it's a tricky thing. I think we have to be very careful, because remembering that, you know, in a world where you can create a lot of Islamic, you know, phobias --

QUESTIONER: That's what I was hoping you'd do.

CLOONEY: Yes, I know that. You have to remember that there's -- these are groups of people who have gotten along, and you can consider it racial, or you can consider it religious. I mean, they're very sort of separate issues. But here's the one thing you can -- you can understand, is that these are groups of people that got along fine until somebody found oil on their ground, okay? So it does complicate things very -- in a very different level, because of political issues, not because necessarily of religious or racial lines.

You have to be very careful about that kind of discussion, because it's -- it can be volatile, you know, and in many ways unfair, because there -- these are -- they're groups of people who have lived together for a long period of time with no problems at all. They've come down -- the shepherds have come down and grazed for a month and a half and left. The Misseria have come through, and it hasn't --

CURRY: But you yourself said in the presentation earlier, George, that there has, however, been this history, the history of slavery --

CLOONEY: Yeah, yeah.

CURRY: -- the history of all these things. So while there has been this interim period of -- and maybe a long interim period of trade and connection, there is, nevertheless, this kind of tension that is underneath of all of this --

PRENDERGAST: Well, it's underneath all of it.

CURRY: -- which is speaking to, I think, what Roland's asking about.

CLOONEY: No, it is. It, you know --

CURRY: It's like, what's going to light the match on that tension? That tension is the fodder.

CLOONEY: Anything.

CURRY: That's the stuff that will burn.

QUESTIONER: Well, look, I mean, there's also -- the context of it is, you know -- I mean, there -- is a resurgent Islam anything to do with this?

PRENDERGAST: The economic and racial dimensions are -- play more heavily, but in 1989, when this regime came to power, it was a true believer religion, back to Jackson's question about Turabi. You know, these guys wanted to establish the first Islamic state in Africa. They were seeped in the language of jihad.

And then guess what? The Chinese cut some deals. Every oil analyst, industry analyst I knew at the time, said it is a laughable proposition that oil is going to be able to be exploited in the middle of a friggin' civil war in Southern Sudan, and the Chinese did it. It's an incredible feat. They did it. They did it by ethnic cleansing. They did it by an extraordinary investment of human lives, because a lot of Chinese died on those -- in developing the infrastructure and the pipeline to Port Sudan. But they did it.

And so what happened is you saw the corruption of this Islamic state, the leadership of the Islamic state, to the point now where, I mean, they use the language of jihadism occasionally to try to rile up some recruits for the thing they call the Popular Defense Forces, which is the paramilitary, which is the Messeria and other militias, the Janjaweed --

CLOONEY: Janjaweed, yeah.

PRENDERGAST: -- in the South. They use this language, but it's irrelevant. It is just a mobilizing tool that a regime desperate to cling to power because they're making so much money uses. And I see none of it as being authentic in terms of Islamization, as a -- as a fundamental principle of authority.

(Cross talk.)

CURRY: Does that answer your question, Roland?

QUESTIONER: Yes, thank you.

QUESTIONER: And there's some folks on this end also.

CLOONEY: Did we sidestep it enough --

(Cross talk, laughter)

CURRY: All right, go ahead and call on someone, then.

QUESTIONER: Hi, I'm Farah Stockman with the Boston Globe.


QUESTIONER: This is a question for George. (Laughs.)


QUESTIONER: I was -- you ended your --

CLOONEY: You know, I'm a Reds fan. (Laughter.) I've had a very tough --

(Cross talk.)

CURRY: All right, go ahead.

QUESTIONER: Well, you ended your remarks downstairs with talk about giving political cover to politicians who want to do something about this stuff. And I was just wondering if you could tell us a little bit about your conversation with Senator Kerry. I guess it was on the phone.

CLOONEY: On the phone with Senator Kerry. I mean --

QUESTIONER: And also, just what ordinary Americans can do.

CLOONEY: Well, I mean, you know, listen, it's not sort of necessarily -- well, I mean, I guess it is political cover, but what we're trying to do is say, you know, that you can -- you can get the -- you know, you can motivate people to get things done. I mean, we can actually get all of this done, but it's a -- it's going to be a very -- it's a long, complicated issue. Senator Kerry has been very much involved and is very proud of the fact that he's been very much involved. He is -- he wants to go back -- when? He wants to go back in --

PRENDERGAST: Before the referendum.

CLOONEY: Yeah, before the referendum, and he wants to go back and he wants to bring as many senators as he possibly can. It'd be great if he could do that. It would be great if he -- if he could bring that kind of focus. I don't -- you know, I feel like Congress is our spot. You know, Congress is the gun at the end of the day. Congress threatens Bashir. You know, they don't have to come out and say, you know, you're in trouble, but Congress is the group. They were the -- they were the trigger in 2005 that sort of got people to do it. So I don't know.

QUESTIONER: What happened to your hand? (Laughs.)

CLOONEY: I broke my finger. I'm really thrilled about that.

QUESTIONER: Do you -- (inaudible) -- do you --

CURRY: It's not a sexy story. Don't ask. (Laughter).

QUESTIONER: It was not in Sudan?

QUESTIONER: May I ask a follow-up to Farah's question?

QUESTIONER: Do you plan to go back to Sudan yourself before the referendum?

CLOONEY: I'd like to. I hope to. We'll, you know --

CURRY: That's under discussion, I know.

CLOONEY: We're certainly working on it.

CURRY: Emily has a question.

QUESTIONER: Yeah, this is just sort of a follow-up to Farah's -- I was, you know, thinking along the same lines of unpacking the idea of political will. I'm wondering if, as you say, the president's onboard at this point, they're really committed, Lugar, Kerry, they're all talking about this, they get it, why does it matter if people in Gary, Indiana, or New York City, or, you know, Portland, Oregon care? And what's the --

CLOONEY: Well, they do. I mean, they do care. I mean, literally, you know, there's -- we literally spend a billion dollars a year, nearly a billion dollars a year, in the Sudan already, period. So we care. We've been involved. There are -- there have been missions there for 150 years. We are involved. The national language as of 2005 in South Sudan is English, you know.

It matters. It is part of us now and we are going to participate. So is it better to get ourselves involved now, right now, when we can do it without costing any money or any lives or are we going to do it later? I mean, it's really sort of a simple question. I don't know whether we can succeed but at least you got to give it a shot. I mean, that seems to me the most important part. I know everyone likes to say well, why should -- you know, we've got a lot of problems in America. I -- you know, we put the Haiti telethon that got a -- they go, what about, you know, Katrina people? You go, I get it. Well, 200,000 people died in 18 seconds. And the American people are very generous. That's what they do. They care about people. Even when they're broke they care about people. They're going to continue to do that. So whether it's, you know, a half a million people dead, or -- or if we can avoid it, people are going to continue to participate in South Sudan. That's the deal.

CURRY: You're talking about the -- doing something that's right, but there's a real cost to not intervening now. I mean, I think to some degree what Emily's question is about is about -- connect the dots first, John, in terms of what -- how much money is the U.S. government spending, as far as we know, right now to fix problems in Sudan? And by intervening now to stop it, how much -- I mean, you can't tell us how much we're going to spend but there's a real cost to not being involved early.


CURRY: Financial cost.

PRENDERGAST: We have a -- I don't think there's any other country in Africa -- and there's a lot of competition -- where we spend anywhere near what we've spent on peacekeeping, which is -- the price tag is 2 billion (dollars) a year with UNMIS and UNAMID, and then a billion-dollar-a-year humanitarian aid operation plus whatever it is that the NGOs spend.

CURRY: And this is by the U.S. government, the initial.

PRENDERGAST: This is the total package but the U.S. is 30, 40 percent. Thirty percent of it's peacekeeping; 40 or 50 percent of it's humanitarian assistance. So, you know, what we spend is what George said, is almost a billion dollars a year if you put all the stuff together and we're in there. But I do think that Sudan becomes Burundi if there isn't this constituency. I mean, if we didn't have a constituency for Darfur -- if there wasn't a religious constituency that cared about southern Sudan, we would have -- I mean, I think you may have gotten a meeting about something else today but we wouldn't have got a meeting about Sudan with the president a month before the election. You know --

CLOONEY: Or the youth movement or the -- (inaudible).

PRENDERGAST: -- it's all because of that. I mean, there's all these -- there's all this thing, and President Obama as senator, as candidate very proud of his association with that movement. As was Secretary Clinton when she was senator and candidate, as was Vice President Biden when he was senator and candidate. These were the -- three of the champions, and they're the ones that always wanted to associate themselves with this cause, you know, of trying to support peace in Sudan, trying to deal with the issues in the Congo. They were three of the most aggressive and forward-leaning senators in the United States Senate when they were senators.

So I think that -- and the reason is is because they're popular (with ?) constituents and because they care about the issue. So I actually think that the constituency-building aspect of generating attention and interest reinforces the political will of actors at that level, and I mean, he basically said that to us. I mean, you know, keep doing that because we need to hear more. The more news there is the more political will --

QUESTIONER: But can I just --

CURRY: Let me just interrupt you for a second because I think Doyle, Doyle McManus has not asked a question. He's from The L.A. Times.

QUESTIONER: You talked downstairs generically about negative incentives -- sticks, toothpicks, clubs. (Laughter.) You know, John, you've been fighting this fight for a long time -- you know, the debate over what's doable, what's effective, what the administration can agree on. So get more specific. You know, name three that you think are --

CLOONEY: Sticks and carrots?

QUESTIONER: -- effective sticks. You actually -- you talked fairly specifically about some carrots.

CLOONEY: Yeah. Yeah.

QUESTIONER: And I -- okay. I think I get what you're doing there. But talk about sticks.

PRENDERGAST: I think the thing you would always want to have is sort of an escalating set, and by the way, parenthetically I would say that, you know, I subscribe very strongly to the walk softly and carry a big stick. We don't need to be talking about what the sticks are in public. So when Susan Rice or President Obama says we have sticks but we're not going to talk about them, I respect that, because I don't think you should throw it out in the middle of the street.

But what you could do -- the things that you could do going up the chain -- you know, this is a regime. It's not -- we've talked -- George and I have talked a lot about this -- it's not Iran, it's not North Korea. They actually do care about the scarlet letters that we put on their shirts with all these crummy little sanctions. And everybody says we've done all the sanctions. We haven't even started doing sanctions. We haven't multilateralized what we already have done and we haven't gone after the assets of the big fish -- Bashir and Nafi Ali Nafi and Salah Gosh and all the guys that have made the most money off the oil. We -- they're not on any sanctions. We're not going after the companies these guys have set up and all that stuff. We're not going -- you know, buzzing into the -- to the woodwork trying to find where their money is. You know, that's -- that's A.

B is you start to enforce arms embargoes, not with military force but just starting to look at publicly shaming and sanctioning countries that are willing or companies that are willing to broker deals in violation of a very clear set of sanctions with respect to arms deliveries to that country.

C, you start to talk about how you can ensure that Sudan, a country that has been bankrupted to a large extent in the public sphere because of this -- the theft of oil resources and privatization of the wealth in that country, desperate -- a regime desperate for IMF debt relief -- to ensure that you block that for the next X number of years.

And then D, you start to explore -- and again, this is why I would say walk softly and carry a stick. You explore how you can support the defense of the Southern Sudanese if the North starts the war again.

CURRY: Militarily then.

PRENDERGAST: You start to talk about -- okay, if air superiority is a way -- if bombing civilian targets is one of the ways that the Sudanese government has secured a tactical advantage in both Darfur and the South during those two wars, then how can we support the neutralization of that advantage -- for civilian protection purposes, not because we're trying to get in the middle of a civil war -- and looking into those kinds of things. Now, you go and deliver that message and say there are consequences, and you talk to some of the regional governments that are willing to do more than we are -- particularly the Ugandans, in terms of arming the SPLA if a war were to break out again -- and you start to create a disincentive. You start to -- you start to affect the calculation. I mean, it's not dispositive, but it is a -- it is a beginning. It is an erosion of the total impunity that exists now.

CURRY: And you talked, George, about freezing assets and not -- you were talking about freezing assets -- the idea was that you can't trade Omar al-Bashir in foreign currency. We're going to sort of figure that out, and also -- you also talked, I think, about the potential -- both of you talked about the potential for some of these oils fields to be lit on fire.

CLOONEY: Well, that's a good -- hey, listen -- I mean, that's not something you come out and say well, here's what's going to happen. But the truth is, you know, it's going to be an unconventional war. It's going to be -- these guys are going to set these places on fire. They've made it very clear to us that that's the one thing I can get to. And if you're willing to die you can -- you can do a lot of stuff. You can blow up a lot of things. You can also -- remember what you were saying, which is an important part of this.

When you're talking about going at countries that are doing dealings with -- with the government of Khartoum, countries are very hard to shame -- (laughs) -- as we've learned over a history of time. But companies you can shame. So you can go directly at the companies that are doing dealings and you can -- you know, all you have to do is, you know, put a -- shine a light on them and watch how quickly they start to pull back. And there -- there are some -- you know, we haven't even really begun to explore the ways that we can make those sticks really hurt.

CURRY: Yeah. Do you have a question?

QUESTIONER: Yes. Jackson Mvunganyi with the Voice of America Sudan Project. Mr. Prendergast, what is your sense of what will happen to the thousands of Southerners that live in the North? And did you have a chance to go through the IDP camps in the North to talk to some of these people?

PRENDERGAST: Well, the -- there's two big challenges that are facing Southerners living in the North. One big challenge is they're going to be used in the context of this referendum.

We didn't get a chance to fully explain or continue the explanation of why that was such an important thing with respect to the referendum because the -- one of the plays that you're going to see the NCP -- the ruling National Congress Party -- roll the dice on is to -- and this is when you were talking about, you know, we don't know if there's 500,000 or we -- you can use the number 500,000 or 5 million -- is because the NCP would like to see the largest number of people registered as possible, and then suppress voting by virtue of insecurity or blocking of -- you know, we saw during the election in April, they would constantly change where the polling station is and who was registered -- nobody's name was on there -- and it dampened registration.

Why does that matter? Because 51 -- 50.1 percent have to vote yes for independence but 60 percent of the registered voters have to turn out for the referendum. And so in other words, if you create --

CLOONEY: It's like the Senate.

PRENDERGAST: -- a fiction that there's 3 million Southerners in the North and 200,000 vote, you've lost it right there. So that -- that's the first play. The second play, as we've heard from ministers of the government of Sudan, is that, oh, if the South votes for independence these people in the North are going to lose all their rights, we can't guarantee their security.

What are they saying? What is this? Is this an invitation to a pogrom? I mean, it's -- I mean, it's very irresponsible to have government officials talking about we can't guarantee the security of highly vulnerable citizens of their own state. It's the kind of cheap tactics that, you know, are scare tactics that make people say, maybe I shouldn't get -- maybe I shouldn't vote at all, you know, and that's what they want to do. They want to make sure that we reduce the actual turnout.

So, I mean, these are -- these are the things that you have to worry about. Lastly, you got the scenario of Ethiopia or Eritrea is that, you know, state becomes independent. They go back to war. First thing that Ethiopia and Eritrea do is throw -- is go after the assets and throw everybody that's -- all the Ethiopians in Eritrea out of Eritrea, all the Eritreans in Ethiopia out of Ethiopia. You just -- you know, you see that kind of ethnic cleansing that occurs and so, you know, that -- that's also something you -- (inaudible) -- have to worry about.

CURRY: A lot of people in the South who've got family in the North are very scared, and they're concerned because the people in the North can't get to the South.

And they're concerned about the messages, as you just said, from the government that bad things will happen to Southerners who are actually caught in the North.

CLOONEY: Yeah. They're not going to make it down from the North. It's a long way. It's a long trip. So they're not going to get there.


QUESTIONER: Hi. You briefly talked about this in the main discussion and up here, but if you could in general comment on the ICC indictment of Bashir and how that helps or hinders both the situation in Darfur and the referendum.

CLOONEY: Well, you know -- I mean, from our worlds there were very different opinions all along. We were -- we went -- Ann and I were in north of Sudan and Chad, actually, trying to be there the day that, you know, that the indictments came in. Personally, I thought that -- knowing a lot of the NGOs, I was concerned with the idea that he was going to kick all the NGOs out and, you know --

QUESTIONER: Which he partially did, yeah.

CLOONEY: -- which he partially did and which could cost some people's lives. And if you -- when I was in Al Fashir the year before and you'd meet a father of six and three of his kids were killed, and you'd ask, do you want to avenge their death or would you like to protect the other three, it's always safety first. So you could argue justice or safety and I have no idea what's right. I will say this --

QUESTIONER: But are they -- are they mutually exclusive?

CURRY: In this case, they are.

CLOONEY: Yes. In this case they are. And so what happens is you go, well, how do we -- you know, I could be and probably am completely wrong about my opinion of that. So we went there and said okay, well, if they're going to do it then let's make -- let's -- let's tell this story and talk about it.

Now, I have to say that he is, from everything we've heard, very concerned with the idea that he's been indicted as a war criminal -- from everything we know. So if that makes it effective and that makes him try to move into the -- you know, into a negotiation phase and, you know, maybe that ends up being an effective tool. I'm not quite sure. I find it to be now a much more effective tool than I thought it was when it was -- when it first happened, and I may be very, very wrong on it.

PRENDERGAST: And this links back to Doyle's question because it's the -- it's the fifth one. If I'd have kept going I could go all night but the fifth, you know, stick is -- and it's back to -- let's put it in the context of President Obama's speech in the United Nations General Assembly where he said very clearly, two paths for Sudan. If they go down the path of peace then there are going to be benefits. If they go down the path of war there's going to be consequences, and the ICC is one of these ones as a sword of Damocles, it can go either way.

If -- you know, if they go down the path of peace, well, there are actors on the Security Council -- Russia and China first -- that can then be supported or at least not opposed by the United States, France, and Britain for Article 16, in the interests of peace. If there's peace in Sudan and Southern Sudan, if there's peace in Darfur, you could see a scenario in which Article 16 could be (deployed ?).

CLOONEY: You make a lot of enemies whenever that comes up.

PRENDERGAST: And then on the other hand, now, to this point is that in -- and if there isn't -- if they go down another route, well, we're going to work really hard with a bunch of countries to try to come up with a plan for apprehending this guy. If he keeps running around thinking he can go to Kenya and Chad and other countries -- who knows where he's going to go next -- then we're going to work really, really hard. At some point he'll make a mistake that will cost him. And by the way, we're going to ramp up the ICC investigations and we're going to ramp up our intelligence support for other guys who are underneath him.

Then it's not just get rid of the leader and we're scot-free. There's other people who are going to -- and they're all so worried about the so-called list, the 51 names that was turned -- that were turned over by the United Nations investigative panel. Remember the last few years ago when the United Nations had a panel of experts that were tasked with determining whether or not Darfur was a genocide and they basically concluded there's not enough information. You know, it's a legal process, but the crimes against humanity committed were commensurate with genocide, but we can't say it's genocide, so everybody said -- ah, they said it's not genocide. Wasn't exactly what they said.

But anyways, what this panel did was they put 51 names together, and they sealed it and they turned it over to Ocampo and said, it's in your hands. And every guy I've talked to in the NCP for the last four years, do you know -- asks me, do you know who's on that list? And so it's not an inconsequential thing. Even though we can't -- we don't have a global police force that can go in and capture these guys today, they are well aware of the cases of Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor.

CURRY: Right. Karen is with Agence France-Presse.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. I just wanted you to please develop a little bit on what you said about China. Down in the meeting downstairs you said that we had to make robust diplomatic efforts to get them involved. Are they at all involved? And how hopeful are you that they will become involved, given that they appear to have continued to pump oil and exploit the oil in Sudan throughout much of the civil war before?

PRENDERGAST: Do you want to say anything about your trip?

CLOONEY: Yeah. I mean, I'm -- I don't think that they have any incentive to stop. I mean, they need oil. You know, they're a country that's in desperate need of oil. They're not going to stop.

But again, the argument is not, you know, shame on you guys, but the argument is you're going to lose the flow of oil because these other -- because the South is going to attack and the South is going to blow up your source. But I don't know that, you know -- (inaudible) -- I don't know, you know, what they're --

QUESTIONER: But are -- are they -- do you get the impression that they're aware of what is potentially going to happen to them?

CURRY: Well, the U.N. Security Council was there the week that you were there and the ambassador from China was expressing, at least to me, some concerns.


CLOONEY: Yeah. I mean, it's a -- it's a funny thing because, you know, China is -- we've gone there and then, you know, it's the only place I've ever gone where you actually have no news coverage when you're finished because we go there -- I wasn't there to shame them. I walked up and said hey, you know, you do have the Olympics coming and just so you know, it might not look so great. Literally, that's all I said, and they're like, thank you, and they move on. (Laughter.)

It's not necessarily -- and, you know, it's not an easy place to try to work. You know, they always say, well, we're doing this internally and it's a -- we're not showy like America and we like to do everything sort of quietly and diplomatically. But I will say that I do believe that there is some movement and I believe there's a chance for some real movement in terms of just simple economics. You know, you can -- you can run into some -- you know, if all of a sudden that -- those oil wells stopped pumping oil, there's a problem.

CURRY: What would you want from China, though? Because Elise (sp) makes a very good point, which is that China does not have a history of being supportive of any sort of secession given the nature of their own politics. So what would you ask of China?

PRENDERGAST: Yeah. I think that -- you know, up until now they had a special envoy. He hasn't been very engaged.

They haven't really done much to secure their interest aside from provide a lot of weapons and sell a lot of weapons --

CURRY: To stop selling weapons.

PRENDERGAST: -- to this regime because they believe at the end of the day, like in the last war -- the '83 to 2005 war -- that even in the midst of a major civil war they can secure their interests militarily. And that's a calculation that they're making based on some level of analysis. I don't know where it comes from. But certainly they've been briefed on a number of occasions about alternative -- (laughs) -- analyses which state that, as we've talked about, that in fact unlike last time this time your assets are going to be targeted, number one.

And so, you know, again, it just becomes fairly screamingly obvious to us that this is the kind of thing that the United States should make a significant priority of. Again, it costs nothing to send a senior person from the administration, not with a set of talking points the length of your arm where Sudan ends up number 93 on the list of 110, but that that person goes to Beijing to meet as high a level as he can -- as he or she can get, to talk and then just say let's work on this together -- let's spend the next 89 days or whatever the countdown is to work on this assiduously to prevent the worst case scenario. Again, different reasons but same interests of an end game.

And I just -- I think that's part of the creative diplomacy that has been promised by the administration in this new phase, but we haven't seen evidence of it as comprehensively as we would like to. There's a lot of good signs which we outlined at the very beginning of the meeting, but there is many other things that still is -- many other stones that have yet to be turned.

CLOONEY: We'd just like -- we'd like just, you know, for the Security Council to bump it up from a six to a seven so that they -- (laughter) -- you get some protection. I mean, you know, that's something China could start to do generally, and there's -- there's some just first steps, you know, that they could do to help out the situation.

CURRY: So we're out of time for questions, and so the only thing is just because we're all in this room news people, what -- just, you know, give us -- January 9th is the date to watch for. Until then, which is about less than 90 days, as news people what should we be watching for? You received today's information about already in Abyei of some violence that happened overnight. That didn't turn out to be a big thing but it -- well, it was significant. What should we be watching for as news people in terms of the lead-up to this -- in terms of what we should be, you know, covering and paying attention to?

PRENDERGAST: Do you want to say anything?

CLOONEY: Well, I would only say that when we were in Abyei the first thing that happened was they said the violence will start October 15th. I mean, that's -- I mean, literally they said that's when it's going to start. It's not going to start on the 9th of January. They're going to lead up it; they're going to try and create a lot of infighting as -- (inaudible) -- masterful at doing.

CURRY: To create fear?

CLOONEY: Not just to create fear, to also create -- you know -- you know, they want to be able to say look at the mess South Sudan is. I mean, they're not even -- not only do they not --

PRENDERGAST: They can't govern themselves.

CLOONEY: -- they can't govern themselves. They're fighting like crazy, they're a mess. And, you know, you do that by funding one group, and you go through old prejudices over the -- you know, over generations. You go, here are some Kalashnikovs and here's some cash -- go. And they're very good at that. They've been doing that for a long time. So that's a real possibility in particular in places like Abyei.

PRENDERGAST: Yeah. And, you know, it's clear. I think that -- that the -- one of the big takeaways from the trip we took is that if there is not a negotiated solution to the various issues like Abyei, Sudan will be the largest conventional war in the world in 2011. The military buildup on both sides for the last five years fueled by the oil petrodollars has been enormous. They violated all the sanctions and all the embargoes and everything in the race -- in an arms race preparing for this day. But if the outcome isn't which either one of them wants to achieve, what either one of them wants to secure, there will be war. And if there is a war it's going to be by far and away the bloodiest in the world. And so that is -- that's the -- that's the worst case scenario, I think, that we're -- that compels us to sort of yell fire, fire, fire.

CLOONEY: Yeah -- (inaudible).

CURRY: Fire, fire, fire. Three fires. All right. Thank you so much -- QUESTIONER: And thank you for yelling fire.

CURRY: -- George and John, for talking to us, and all the very smart questions this evening.

QUESTIONER: Thank you.

CURRY: To be continued.

CLOONEY: Much smarter than that big room. (Laughter, applause.)







More on This Topic


A Trip Report: Sudan (Audio)

Speakers: George Clooney and John Prendergast
Presider: Tami Hultman

Upon their return from Sudan, George Clooney and John Prendergast assess the in-country situation in advance of southern Sudan's independence...