Sudanese say US pressure was key to reaching transition deal

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The power-sharing agreement reached between Sudan’s military and pro-democracy protesters last week came after the United States and its Arab allies applied intense pressure on both sides amid fears a prolonged crisis could tip the country into civil war, activists and officials said.

The agreement, which raised hopes of a democratic transition following the military overthrow of long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir in April, was announced days after the protesters held mass marches through Khartoum and other areas.

But those familiar with the negotiations say the main breakthrough happened at a secret meeting the day before the protests, when diplomats from the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pressed the two sides to accept proposals from the African Union and Ethiopia.

“It was a tense but crucial meeting. It melted the ice,” a leading activist said on condition of anonymity to discuss the back-room negotiations. “The meeting was the cornerstone of Friday’s deal.”

The two sides agreed on a jointly run sovereign council that will rule for a little over three years while elections are organized. A military leader will head the council for the first 21 months followed by a civilian leader for the next 18.

They also agreed on an independent Sudanese investigation into security forces’ crackdown on the protests last month. The military also agreed to restore the internet after a weekslong blackout.

The deal appears to be on track, with the two sides expected to formally sign it this week.

Two leading activists, a Sudanese military official and two Egyptian officials described intense US efforts to broker a deal after veteran diplomat Donald Booth was appointed special envoy in mid-June. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.

State Department officials declined to comment on US efforts to broker the deal, saying only that Washington welcomes the agreement and commends the AU and Ethiopia for their mediation efforts.

Two Egyptian officials with direct knowledge of Booth’s meetings in Cairo last month said the US urged President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi to back the AU and Ethiopian proposal and “pressure” Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Burhan, the head of the ruling military council, to respond positively.

“We received a direct message from the White House: Facilitate a deal between the military and the protesters,” one of the officials said.

The Sudanese military official says the generals received the same message.

“The Americans demanded a deal as soon as possible,” he said.

The US and its allies also put pressure on the protesters, who are represented by a coalition known as the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change. The activists say the US and Arab countries reached out to individual factions. Protest leaders gave in when it appeared the coalition was at risk of fracturing.

The efforts culminated in a secret meeting on July 29 at the home of a Sudanese businessman that was attended by protest leaders as well as al-Burhan and Gen. Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, known by the nickname Hemedti, who is seen by many as a powerful figure on the military council.

Officials from the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also attended, in a show of unity that pushed the two sides together