KHARTOUM, Sudan, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- Washington's top diplomat in Sudan says the successful vote on independence for southern Sudan was a significant step forward in the stubborn conflict.
"The Obama administration's approach has yielded some positive results," retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Scott Gration, the U.S. special envoy to Sudan, told the Wall Street Journal.
"When I took this job, very few people thought we'd have an opportunity to have a referendum on time," said Gration, a former fighter pilot whose parents were missionaries to Africa.
The Journal said the passage of the referendum is expected to give the United States an influential advisory role in the birth of the new nation and offset criticism of the Obama administration for negotiating with Sudanese strongman President Omar al-Bashir, a northerner who has been indicted for war crimes. President Obama recently told Sudan the United States would consider lifting economic sanctions if Khartoum allowed the referendum to take place peacefully.
Sudan is rich in natural resources coveted by Western nations and China but has been wrapped up in a brutal civil war between the predominantly Christian south and Muslim north. Good relations between the United States and southern Sudan could provide an opening for Western extraction industries.