September 3, 2011 (WASHINGTON) – The Ethiopian Prime minister Meles Zenawi told the US administration that toppling the government led by Sudanese president Omer Hassan al-Bashir would be the ideal scenario for Washington, according to a leaked diplomatic cable.
- Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
The January 30, 2009 note released by Wikileaks, an anti-secrecy website, detailed discussions that took place between Zenawi and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phil Carter with the presence of the Director of Sudan Programs Group (SPG) at the US State Department Tim Shortley.
Focus of the talks was on the widely expected issuance of an arrest warrant against Bashir by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of war crimes he allegedly committed in Sudan’s western region of Darfur.
The Sudanese leader was officially charged a little over a month after this meeting took place on seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The more serious counts of genocide were only added a year later after appeal by the ICC prosecutors.
Zenawi told the US delegation that the warrant could encourage someone in Khartoum to stage a coup but said that success of such an attempt would be nearly zero due to the close connections and mutual support for one another among senior NCP officials which would suppress any coup attempt.
“If Bashir remains in power, either because no such coup attempt is made or an attempt fails, the indictment will leave the Bashir regime a wounded animal that is more desperate than ever,” the cable quoted Zenawi as saying.
The Ethiopian Premier agreed with assertions made by US acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs that Khartoum’s actions seem to undermine their own long-term interests.
However, Zenawi also argued that the ruling party in Sudan is disappointed over US refusal to normalise ties despite signing the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended more than two decades of civil war with the South.
At the time, Washington promised Khartoum that it will normalise ties as a reward. However, the conflict in Darfur made the US hesitant to do so amid intense domestic pressure to take action that would reverse the growing humanitarian crisis in Sudan’s western region.
“While the [Government of Sudan] GoS thought that they had moved away from a climate of bad relations with Washington when they signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Naivasha, they perceive the United States as having shifted the goal posts on them since" Zenawi said.
As a result, Zenawi asserted that the GoS believes that "the U.S. will get them one way or the other," and from that perspective, they are already in a corner. "Believing they will lose, they perceive no benefit to them of resolving the problems of South Sudan”, the Ethiopian top official said.
Zenawi said that the NCP’s strategy as a result will be to deploy delaying tactics such as postponing the January 2011 referendum, buy time on Darfur and "hope for a miracle" in 2011. South Sudan’s self determination did go ahead in January resulting in a massive vote for independence, which it achieved in January. Sudan was the first country to recognise South Sudan’s secession.
"To die today or die tomorrow, they will choose to employ delaying mechanisms allowing them to die tomorrow" Zenawi explained.
He said that while the "Islamic agenda" may have motivated the regime ten years ago, today they are interested only in money and power.
He pressed the case that direct negotiations between Khartoum and Washington could lead to rational discussions.
Zenawi then went on to wrap up his views saying that if he were the United States he would look at two options.
The first one, which he clearly conveyed as the preferred choice according to the US cable, would be to "remove the Bashir regime."
Acknowledging that such an option was unlikely, Zenawi advocated for making a clear representation to the GoS that the United States is not "out to get them" and laying out clear benchmarks of actions expected of the GoS on both Darfur and South Sudan that would be necessary to "avoid continued challenges" with the US.
He concluded the discussion by highlighting that "they [Khartoum] don’t trust the Obama Administration," and "they trust the Obama Administration less than the Bush Administration," and with a clear reference to US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice and former Senior NSC Director for Africa Gayle Smith. Both officials are considered hardliners in their views of Khartoum.
Relations between Sudan and Ethiopia are considered to be generally strong in recent years. Addis Ababa was one of Bashir’s first stops after the ICC arrest warrant.
Ethiopia is seen as an honest broker by Sudanese parties and has hosted numerous meetings between north and south over the past two years.
More recently Ethiopia agreed to deploy its troops as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission to Sudan’s disputed Abyei region.
Khartoum sent tanks and troops into oil-producing Abyei last May, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee the fighting. But both sides agreed to set up a demilitarised zone along the border after talks in Addis Ababa.
Last month Zenawi attempted to mediate between the NCP and Sudan People Liberation Movement North (SPLM-N) in a bid to end the ongoing clashes that erupted last June in South Kordofan. However, the effort seemed to have been fruitless.
To makes matters worse, the Sudanese army on Friday clashed with the SPLM-N fighters in Blue Nile state which borders Ethiopia. It remains to be seen how the latter would react particularly given reports of exodus by civilian population from the state in the aftermath of the fighting.
There are small signs however, that relations between Addis Ababa and Khartoum are not as smooth as it seems.
The government sponsored Sudanese Media Center (SMC) website has carried a report that was critical of choosing Ethiopian troops to deploy in Abyei citing national security concerns and Addis Ababa ties with Israel.
Furthermore, the Paris-based Indian Ocean newsletter reported concerns by Addis Ababa over information of meetings between Sudan’s National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officers and members of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and leaders of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EPRP).
The report said Khartoum on the other hand is angered over Ethiopian military support to Juba which it claims is falling into the hands of SPLM-N in South Kordofan. The SPLM-N is the northern sector of South Sudan’s ruling party the SPLM. During Sudan’s second north-south civil war (1983-2005) large numbers of marginalised groups in Blue Nile and South Kordofan joined the SPLM in their conflict with Khartoum.
Khartoum has said it now perceives the SPLM-N to be an illegal military force and political party, which continues to be backed by the SPLM in South Sudan.
In October 2008 Sudan summoned the Ethiopian ambassador to protest against weapons that it said had arrived in South Sudan’s capital Juba on an Ethiopian military plane.