About the Author: Major General (Ret) Scott Gration serves as the U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan.
As I continue my 25th trip as Special Envoy to Sudan, I'm struck by the remarkable potential that an improved relationship between the United States and Sudan holds for the Sudanese people. While much of my time has been spent on Darfur and North-South issues, it's important to recognize that we seek to broaden our engagement with all of Sudan -- north, south, east, and west. Since writing from Juba, I traveled north to Khartoum, and then east for my first visit to the Red Sea State as Special Envoy.
On February 4-5, I visited Port Sudan, a city on Sudan's eastern coast and a vital economic hub. Its port and oil terminal are critical to the Sudanese economy, and though I was impressed by the superb efforts of local humanitarian workers, it's clear that eastern Sudan's citizens would benefit from additional investment in education, health care, critical infrastructure, and improved access to basic services, especially safe drinking water.
Meetings with local government officials impressed upon me the important role that Eastern Sudan's three states play in Sudan's political, economic, and cultural life. I encouraged them to work toward our shared vision of a more open and inclusive society -- one where all Sudanese can enjoy a better future, whether Dinka or Misseriya, Darfuri, or Beja. We appreciate the government's efforts to fulfill its commitments under the Eastern Peace Agreement and encourage it to do everything possible to keep people safe and create the conditions for economic growth. Families cannot thrive where people feel excluded and economic opportunity is scarce.
For the north to reach its full potential, it must be strong and united from east to west. I shared this in my meetings with the deputy wali (the Sudanese term for local governor), and challenged him to consider how an improved relationship between the United States and Sudan could benefit his province's people. A visit to the port facility revealed a wealth of potential opportunity. In the next decade, Port Sudan could emerge as a major maritime hub and gateway to the rest of the world, and the east could play a major role in the north's economic stability.
I'm grateful to the people of Port Sudan for their hospitality, and look forward to future opportunities to strengthen the ties forged during this initial visit.