Princeton Lyman, President Barack Obama's new special envoy to Sudan, left on Saturday for his first trip to the region since officially replacing Gen. Scott Gration, and the Sudan advocacy community could not be happier about the replacement.
"It's an excellent upgrade that will allow the U.S. to be even more effective," John Prendergast, CEO of the Enough Project, told The Cable. "Lyman has both of the ingredients that Gration lacked -- a deep understanding of regional politics and a long record of negotiating experience. Gration had neither of them when he took the job in 2009."
Gration, who had multiple run-ins with both top Obama administration officials and advocates in the Sudan community, will probably be remembered for what some considered a naïve approach toward the brutal Sudanese regime, notably when he said that "gold stars" and "cookies" could be used to affect positive change in Khartoum. Gration has been appointed ambassador to Kenya, and Tuesday he testifies at a hearing that will mark the beginning of what's sure to be a difficult Senate confirmation process.
Obama met with Lyman at the White House on April 1 to congratulate him on the appointment and talk over the road ahead.
"During the meeting, the President outlined his serious concerns over the situation in Abyei and the impact that increased bombings are having on civilians in Darfur," according to a White House read out of the meeting. "The President underscored his commitment to the establishment of two viable states in northern and South Sudan in July. They discussed the urgency of all parties joining the new opportunities in the Doha Peace Process and of elevating the level of international engagement on Darfur."
Lyman will first travel to Ethiopia to participate in talks regarding implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and security arrangements along the border between the two countries. Those talks are being facilitated by the African Union's High-Level Implementation Panel. He will then travel to Khartoum, where he will meet with Sudanese leaders on North-South political issues. Finally, he will travel back to Ethiopia for meetings of the "economic cluster groups," who deal with oil, debt, and other non-security issues. Meanwhile, his senior advisor Dane Smith is set to travel to Doha for the next round of talks on the situation in Darfur.
There are only three months left before the CPA's "interim period" runs out and Sudan will officially split into two countries, following the January referendum, in which the south overwhelmingly voted in favor of separation. But the situation on the ground is reportedly getting worse as the northern government masses its forces near the oil-rich region of Abyei, whose final status is far from settled.
"Troubling is too light a word for what's going on in Abyei," said Prendergast. "The concentration of armor and artillery is a violation of the CPA and the amassing of ground forces indicates that major military action is imminent."
Lyman's first order of business as special envoy is, "to prevent that from happening and secure the wider deal on border, citizenship and other issues" Prendergast said. "That's going to be the biggest priority."
Back at the State Department, a reorganization of Gration's office is also underway. We're told that plans are being put in place to integrate the Office of the Special Envoy for Sudan back into the African Affairs bureau (AF) led by Assistant Secretary Johnnie Carson.
On a conference call with advocacy leaders last week, Lyman said he was looking to add additional staff to his team to address issues related to the relationship between north and south Sudan, but no decisions had been made as of yet.