In a special opinion piece for CNN.com's Global Public Square, U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan Ambassador Princeton Lyman addressed "South Sudan: Lessons Learned at the Negotiating Table." The text of his piece originally appeared here.
South Sudan: Lessons learned at the negotiating table
By Princeton N. Lyman -- Special to CNN
Tomorrow South Sudan will declare independence, joining the international community as the world's 195th independent state. This is a momentous occasion for the people of South Sudan, made all the more remarkable having seen the process from the inside.
Last summer, few expected that Sudan's peace process would make it this far. Many believed that a return to war was coming and that Sudan would return to the cycle of violent conflict that had marked two decades of its past and claimed two million lives.
When I joined the on-going negotiations last summer, I found it striking that despite the bitter divides and tensions between the parties, Khartoum and Juba's leaders were weary of war and had no desire to return to it. Negotiations over tough issues would be difficult and sometimes armed clashes did occur. But each time leaders pulled back from more widespread conflict and never walked away from the negotiating table.
They realized that whatever issues divided them, their respective territories were inextricably linked by economic, social and political ties. Even when the south Sudanese voted in January 9 to secede from Sudan and create a new nation, the people on both sides of the border continued to trade, move back and forth and depend on what would come to be called "soft borders" to maintain their livelihoods.
I also learned that the weight of world opinion mattered. When in September 2010 President Obama assembled the leaders of nations from around the world at the United Nations in New York to discuss Sudan, the Vice Presidents from both north and south Sudan sat on the dais for hours to hear that peace was not only their own concern but that of their neighbors, their friends, their donors and their commercial partners. In many other ways and many times over the next year, this message was sent clearly to Sudan. Many countries and organizations contributed more directly to the peace process.
The United States remained deeply involved. Like my predecessors, I have traveled to Sudan and neighboring countries more than half my time -- at least a dozen trips since last August. I have participated in the negotiations, worked with each side individually, offered solutions to knotty problems and held out the prospect of a brighter future for both north and south Sudan once peace was achieved making the land open to investment, assistance and greater trade. President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Clinton, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Susan Rice and many other officials lent their voices and political influence to this cause.
In the end, it comes down to what people want. Sudan's people have suffered decades of war. Their economic prospects are dim unless the two sides can come to agreement on how to share precious resources, cooperate in other economic areas and together promote the viability and stability of each other.
The overwhelming majority of Sudanese, north and south, want enough food to feed their families, education for their children and security for their loved ones. They want the freedom to be able to express their opinions, choose their leaders and become active participants in political and social life. These are the imperatives that in the end have driven the negotiation process and enabled negotiators to reach sufficient agreement to move ahead and avoid return to war.
I also learned that individuals matter. Through months of meetings and shuttle diplomacy between Washington, New York, Khartoum, Juba, and Addis Ababa, I came to appreciate the deeply personal connection between Sudan's negotiators. Many went to school together before war drove them apart. They know each other's families, have shared innumerable cups of tea and would often take a break from long hours fighting at the negotiating table to share quiet dinners together. They have a profound and deeply personal understanding of each other that outsiders will never fully comprehend.
Yet, often enough, the deep well of bitterness, recrimination, and hurt would rise to the surface and sharp exchanges would replace the diplomatic niceties of a few minutes before, reminding us that peace is not easily attained, memories not easily assuaged and suspicions not readily removed. To their credit, they nevertheless returned once again, indeed time and time again, to the task at hand, to their commitment to the needs of their people for peace.
The peaceful transition to independence for South Sudan is thus no coincidence. It is the culmination of six years of dialogue and reflection, of choosing peace over war and of pursuing a brighter future in lieu of a return to a darker past. It is the result also of the commitment of people from all over the world, through their governments, their advocacy groups and their religious organizations on behalf of peace and justice.
Even as much work remains, I am proud that the United States has been in the forefront of this commitment. It will serve us well if there is peace in this part of Africa, if turmoil and human crises no longer dominate the scene and if we welcome a new partner in the search for a more stable and prosperous world.
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