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Report by Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on Trip to Dubai and Sudan, Jan. 18-25, 2014

February 3, 2014

Participants: Rosalynn Carter, Dr. John Hardman, Curtis Kohlhaas, and (in Khartoum) Itonde Kakoma.

After spending the night at the new Waldorf-Astoria in Dubai, we met privately with Mr. Al Habtoor and his sons. He was very critical of U.S. policy in the region regarding Syria, Iran, and Egypt, but interested in helping with the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. He was generous in providing us with hotel accommodations and transportation.

We then met with Dr. Manal Omran Taryam and Eng. Essa Al Haj Al Maidoor, who administer the affairs of Noor Dubai, a philanthropic organization that specializes in eyesight. They have been helpful to The Carter Center with river blindness and trachoma. We invited them to Atlanta in February for a global assessment of trachoma and in March to Ethiopia for our week of concentrated effort on malaria and trachoma. We then drove out to visit with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the founder of Noor Dubai and prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai. They will continue to provide funds for eyesight projects and accepted our invitations to participate in Atlanta and Ethiopia.

We then flew to Khartoum on Mr. Al Habtoor's plane and had a briefing from our staff on peace and health projects. The next morning (Jan.21) the Norwegian ambassador hosted a helpful round table discussion about regional issues with diplomats from the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the United States plus Sudanese experts.

We met with President Al Bashir and his top advisors, and discussed the prospects of an inclusive and democratic national dialogue, the 2015 elections, drafting a new constitution, and four health projects involving Guinea worm, trachoma, onchocerciasis, and public health training. All of these directly affect the troubled areas of Darfur, Blue Nile, and South Kordofan. The president assured us that all our requests regarding health would be honored, and I sent him a follow-up letter that afternoon to assure there was no misunderstanding. He seemed genuinely concerned about the civil conflict in South Sudan, friendly toward President Salva Kiir, and disturbed by the intrusive involvement of Ugandan troops into the heart of South Sudan. Sudan is enjoying an almost unprecedented role as a non-violent neighbor of regional conflict and is working closely with President Mbeki and others in Addis Ababa to resolve the current crisis in South Sudan.

I also urged the president to implement the Sudan-South Sudan commitments of September 2012, to establish Abyei Area Administration, the Abyei Area Police Service, and the Abyei Area Council, and to resolve the remaining border disputes with South Sudan. The council is crucial, and Sudan insists on a 50-50 representation while South Sudan wants 60 percent. The president rejected my request that U.S. Special Envoy Donald Booth be granted access to responsible officials in his government and mentioned U.S. refusal to grant him a visa to visit New York, unwillingness for American officials to deal directly with him, and other grievances.

In the evening, we were hosted by Anis Haggar and his family, and participated in an extensive discussion with about 20 civil society leaders, educators, former government ministers, and diplomats. It was impressive how they emphasized their feeling of intimacy with the people of South Sudan and how adversely the lives of private citizens were affected by U.S. sanctions. Bankers and owners of small businesses had difficulty with normal commercial transactions: a sugar mill owner had restraints on buying machinery and agricultural equipment, and an oncologist who specialized in treatment of women said she had only one mammogram device (made by GE), that was inoperative for the lack of spare parts. It is obvious that this is an ill-advised and counter-productive policy that hurts everyone in Sudan and South Sudan and has little, if any, adverse effect on high government officials.

During the afternoon, we met with a group of young activists who represent a wide range of political parties and interests. We encouraged them to promote election reforms recommended by The Carter Center after the elections in 2010 and to support genuine national dialogue and wide involvement in writing a new constitution. We also visited the public health ministry, and they confirmed the commitments already made by President Bashir.

We visited the recently chosen National Assembly Speaker, Dr. Al-Fatih Izzedin Al-Mansour, and he expressed a firm commitment to proceed expeditiously with drafting a constitution and promised wide participation of opposition parties. He would like to complete this before the 2015 elections, but other prominent officials doubted this being done. The speaker was very eager to have an exchange of legislators with the U.S. Congress. During slack times, we had conversations with Hassan al-Turabi, Dr. Salah al-Din al Atabani Ghazi, and other leaders of opposition political parties.

We convened participants in our Sudan-South Sudan Dialogue group who have been working for more than a year under the direction of General Lazaro Sumbeiywo and Ambassador Kapya from Tanzania. They will continue their discussions and also proceed with group visits to sensitive areas along the border. Their easing of bilateral tensions has been very valuable in bringing about the positive relations now existing between Sudan and South Sudan.

During our final day in Khartoum, the assurances of the president and speaker were reiterated about the government's commitment to a truly fair national dialogue, elections, and drafting of a new constitution. These messages were delivered most strongly by Dr. Dirdeiry Mohamed Ahmed, former chief peace negotiator and now in charge of foreign relations for the National Congress Party, and Presidential Advisor Abd Al Rahman Al Sadiq Al Mahdi, son of the former prime minister, and Umma Party leader Sadiq Al-Mahdi. I promised full support of The Carter Center if their commitments are honored.

Our health projects in Sudan include: a) tight monitoring in Kafia Kingi where we have found three cases of Guinea worm (after 10 years with none!); b) the training of non-MD specialists to perform trichiasis surgeries; c) close monitoring in the Abu Hamad area to prevent recurrence of onchocerciasis (river blindness); and d) Sudan's payment of its share of costs so we can work with Sudan universities to begin training several thousand health workers.

On Jan. 23, we flew back to Dubai and met with Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his associates to discuss our nomination for one of his foundation prizes for progress in eradicating Guinea worm. We also invited his health experts to participate in our global assessment of trachoma in Atlanta.

Conclusions: Having known Omar al Bashir for about 25 years and having completed multiple agriculture and health projects in Sudan and South Sudan, we were intrigued by the unprecedented insistence of him and his top officials that a peaceful resolution of differences will be sought within Sudan and with adjacent countries. (Note exception below.) A public statement from the president was planned within the next week or so about how opposition political factions will be encouraged to participate, and repeated requests were made for The Carter Center to be of assistance. We will await proof that these expectations will be realized.

Having negotiated a peace agreement between Sudan and Uganda in 1999, I was disturbed to note the tension that is developing between the two countries.

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