Moderator: Good afternoon to everyone from the Department of State’s Dubai Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants dialing in from the Middle East, Africa, and around the world for this on-the-record press briefing with U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman.
Ambassador Feltman will discuss his recent travel to the region and the United States’ support of the Sudanese people in their call for a civilian-led transition to democracy, in accordance with the Sudanese Constitutional Declaration. After opening remarks, Ambassador Feltman will take questions from participating journalists.
We are pleased to offer simultaneous interpretation for this briefing in Arabic. We request that everyone keep this in mind and speak slowly.
I’ll now turn it over to Ambassador Feltman for his opening remarks. Sir, the floor is yours.
Ambassador Feltman: Thank you, Sam, and good afternoon to everyone who’s on this call. I’m honored to be able to speak to you from Washington, D.C., and best wishes to everybody.
As President Biden emphasized in his October 28th statement from the White House, the events of October 25th in Sudan and the days since are a grave setback, but the United States will continue to stand with the people of Sudan in their nonviolent struggle to advance the goals of Sudan’s revolution.
We remain extremely concerned about Sudan’s democratic trajectory after the military takeover. Sovereign Council Chair Burhan and his military supporters have hijacked and betrayed the aspirations of the Sudanese people for a peaceful, democratic country, as evidenced by the 2019 peaceful revolution and enshrined in that year’s Constitutional Declaration. The international community – from the African Union to the Arab League to the UN Security Council to the international financial institutions – have signaled loudly their deep concern about the military’s unconscionable actions, and we join them in calling for the immediate restoration of democratic governance in Sudan.
The United States has been clear. The military cannot choose their civilian partners in the framework of a transitional government, just as the civilians also cannot choose their military partners. Neither side can out-sideline the other. Both have important roles to play in the transition.
As public servants and representatives of the will of the Sudanese people, the military and civilian leaders committed to work together to deliver on the democratic ambitious of the Sudanese people, and we call on General Burhan to take the steps to restore the government. We urge the military to release all civilians detained in connection with the unacceptable events of October 25th, and to ensure that any who have been injured receive necessary medical care without interference.
We mourn the dozens who were killed or wounded during the protests over the weekend, but we also commend those members of the security forces who exercised restraint and upheld their obligations to respect human rights and citizens’ rights to demonstrate peacefully. To echo President Biden’s remarks, I have admired the courage of the Sudanese people in demanding that their voices be heard and helping their country make strides toward a new, democratic Sudan. To those freedom-loving Sudanese and to those who would seek to rob them of their democratic ambition, I say that the world is watching.
The Sudanese people have made clear that they will not accept the military’s attempts to sideline their hard-fought democratic transition, and we stand with the people of Sudan.
And with that, I’m happy to take your questions.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, Ambassador Feltman. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call.
Our first question is a pre-submitted question from Peter Fabricius, a freelance journalist from South Africa. And Peter asks: “Sir, do you have faith in General Burhan’s claim that he would still intend to transition to elections in 2023 and would like Abdalla Hamdok to be prime minister in a transitional government?” Over to you, sir.
Ambassador Feltman: General Burhan in his statements has said that he is committed to the Constitutional Declaration of 2019, that he’s committed to moving towards elections, and all of that’s fine in terms – as far as statements go. And of course Prime Minister Hamdok is an important player representing the civilian side of the civilian-military partnership. But this is more than just about Prime Minister Hamdok. It’s about the military-civilian partnership that was forged out of that peaceful revolution in 2019 and it’s about the spirit and the letter of what the military and the civilians agreed the transition should look like – how they would manage the transition.
And so for all of his statements supporting the Constitutional Declaration and the democratic aspirations of the Sudanese people, their desires for elections, his actions is doing the opposite. His actions have undermined that civilian-military partnership. His actions have hijacked the type of transition that the civilians and military had agreed.
Without question, there were tensions in the transition. Without question, there were disappointments, there were some hurdles that – to be overcome. The fact that the transitional legislative council had never come – had never been created was an issue that needed to be resolved. But all of the issues that General Burhan and others said were at the top of their list of concerns could have been, should have been addressed in accordance with that Constitutional Declaration and in the spirit of the civilian-military partnership.
So if General Burhan wants to have his statements about elections and the Constitutional Declaration be considered credible, he needs to allow the civilian government to resume its work and to look for mechanisms to address what he says are his concerns, in line with that civilian-military partnership that came out of the 2019 revolution.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. Our next question will go to the live queue, and goes to Michel Ghandour from Al Hurra. Operator, please open the line.
Question: Good morning. Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for doing this. I have two questions. First, are you in Washington or Khartoum? Because news reports say that you are in Sudan to mediate between the parties. This is my first question.
And my second: What role is the UAE playing in the negotiation between Prime Minister Hamdok and the Sudanese army? Does it have more leverage than the U.S. on the Sudanese party? And what is the solution that the U.S. supports at this time?
Ambassador Feltman: Hello, Michel. And Michel, I am speaking to you from Washington.
We have been in touch with the Emiratis, with the African Union, with the Egyptians, with the UN, with representatives of other countries who are interested and committed to supporting the transition in Sudan, to helping the Sudanese people achieve their aspirations to overcome the legacy of Omar Bashir and chart a democratic path forward. So yes, we are in touch with the Emirates, among others, and our impression is that whether we’re talking about the Emirates or the Egyptians or the – or other – or African neighbors or others, is that there’s a real interest in stability in Sudan.
I’m sorry, just a – hold on just a second, please. I’m really sorry for that interruption.
But the – I think the Emirates share our concern about the stability in Sudan. Our analysis is that the stability in Sudan depends on restoring that partnership between the civilians and the military that was part of the transition; that the current situation is not going to contribute to the type of stability that’s in the interest of the region. And I think if you wanted to talk to the Emirates about their own diplomacy, that would be fine. I’m not going to characterize their own diplomacy, but I will assure you, Michel, that we are in touch with a number of countries, including the Emirates, about what we would like to – what we believe is necessary to restore that civilian-military partnership, which is the release of all the detainees; a restoration of the cabinet to effective service; lifting of the house arrest under which Prime Minister Hamdok goes; a number of things.
The important thing is for the Sudanese civilians to see that the partnership is a partnership of equals with the military, not one where the military is able to dissolve the civilian institutions at will.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. Our next question is also from the live queue and goes to Mirna Jammal from France24. Operator, please open the line.
Question: Hello. Do you hear me?
Ambassador Feltman: Yes, I do.
Question: Okay. Thank you for this briefing. Please, I would like to know how you are – what’s your vision about Sudan future? And do you collaborate with the EU for the issue crisis? Thank you.
Ambassador Feltman: I mean, I think it’s – I think we’ve all been inspired in watching the manifestation of the Sudanese people for democratic governance, to overcome the dark period of the Bashir regime. If you go back to the – to 2019, it was that spirit of nonviolent demonstration of Sudanese raising their voices that captures the imagination of the world. And then you saw it again on October 21st, when the Sudanese people came out in such large numbers in – again, in the spirit of peace and nonviolence in support of the democratic transition, in support of civilian rule. And then you saw it again after the military takeover when they came out in such large numbers on Saturday.
So I think that what inspires all of us in the international community are the – is the courage, the insistence by the Sudanese people that this democratic transition take place – take place as planned. And we have been in close touch with our European partners, including France, about how it is that we can support the aspirations of the Sudanese people. This is not about – this is not about a U.S. or a Franco-American agenda; it’s about the Sudanese people’s agenda and what we can do to support it. And I think that the generals will realize that they need the support of the international community when it comes to issues such as economic development, debt relief, access to financing via the World Bank and the IMF, but that that international support requires getting the transition back on track, that the international support derives from forward momentum on the transition.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. Our next question is a pre-submitted question from Reuben Kyama from Voice of America, based in Kenya. And Reuben asks: “Sir, if you could also update us on the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia. Are aid groups now able to get food and medical supplies into the conflict region, and are you seeing more flows of refugees, and are you concerned if the situation is getting worse?” Over to you, sir.
Ambassador Feltman: Without question the situation is getting worse, and we’re – and we are, frankly, alarmed by the situation. Whether we’re talking about access in northern Ethiopia, in Tigray, or we’re talking about increased numbers of displaced in the federal Ethiopian state of Amhara by TPLF military advances, we are alarmed. There has been insufficient access to
Tigray since late June, early July. The United Nations estimates that only about 13 percent of humanitarian needs to the federal state of Tigray have been met, and that’s – it’s for a number of factors, including fighting, but it’s mostly government restrictions, bureaucratic restrictions that have prevented the type of humanitarian access from getting to the people of Tigray, and we see signs of famine and near-famine conditions.
There are over 5 million people in conditions of food insecurity now whose needs could be addressed if the government would allow the assistance to flow. And at the same time, you see the TPLF, the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, has moved out of Tigray, south into Amhara, have taken strategic cities of Dessie and Kombolcha, and there are tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of Amhara who are fleeing TPLF military advances.
So the – we’re calling on all parties to this conflict to find ways to de-escalate the situation, allow the humanitarian access to flow to those in need, be they in Amhara state, be they in Tigray, be they in Afar state, and move toward a negotiated ceasefire. The situation is dire, and as I said, it is getting worse. And we are – and it’s very sad to see that we’re almost at the one-year anniversary of when the conflict in northern Ethiopia started, and we – and the parties do not seem anywhere near to the point of agreeing to de-escalation and a negotiated ceasefire and some kind of talks.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. Our next question is from the live queue, from Monalisa Freiha from Lebanon’s Annahar newspaper. Operator, please open the line.
Question: Hello. Hello, Ambassador, and thank you for doing this. As a follow-up to Michel’s question and international mediation and efforts to end this crisis, where are the international mediation struggling now, stumbling now? And is it true that the Sudanese leaders lied to you, as Washington Post or New York Times reported?
Ambassador Feltman: Thanks, Monalisa, for your questions. On the latter one, when I was in Sudan, of course, just immediately prior to the military’s hijacking of the transition, we were engaging the Sudanese leaders – political leaders and military leaders – on mechanisms that could have addressed what the military said were their concerns, and frankly, what the civilians said were their concerns about the transition not moving ahead as decisively or quickly as hoped. So the military engaged with us on these various mechanisms that were in line with the Constitutional Declaration of 2019.
So I wouldn’t go so far as to say they lied. What I would say is they seemed to be talking to us in bad faith, because they were talking to us about how to address the concerns they had through constitutional means and instead, as soon as we left, they decided to just turn over the entire negotiating table in favor of a military takeover. So I would say it was more that they were meeting with us in bad faith than absolutely lying to us.
And in terms of the negotiations, there are – I know that there are some Sudanese initiatives underway, that there are some attempts by the Sudanese themselves to find a way forward. And you saw evidence, I think, of the Sudanese understanding that they need to get themselves out of this crisis by the conduct of the demonstrations on Saturday. I don’t minimize the fact that there were it sounds like three people killed and dozens wounded, which is far too many. But by and large, many – the protesters, the demonstrators stayed away from sensitive military locations, which reduced, of course, the potential for conflict and violence. And by and large – not entirely – the military and security services exercised restraint. So I think that demonstrated an understanding by the Sudanese people themselves that they have to be careful and find a way back to the civilian military partnership that this transition requires.
So we are encouraging a number – the Sudanese themselves to think about how to restore the partnership and the constitutional arrangements right now, and we would be supportive of Sudanese – of Sudanese solutions, and obviously, the conversations that we’re having with the Sudanese lay out some of our own – what we would consider to be conditions to success, such as releasing all the detainees. As I said, allowing Prime Minister Hamdok to do his job not under house arrest. Things like that.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. Our next question is a pre-submitted question from Zahir Bakhiet, a Sudanese journalist from Al-Jareeda newspaper. And he asks: “Sir, how do you view any potential future partnership between the military and civilian components, and do you think it will last?” Over to you, sir.
Ambassador Feltman: It’s a good question, as all the questions have been. Because obviously, the civilians – to use a colloquial term, the civilians feel burned by what their military partners did on October 25th. And so the civilians are going to, I think, have a high expectation of the types of guarantees they would need to be able to trust the military in a partnership again.
Our own view is that during this transition period, one’s not going to be able to sideline the military, that the – that just as the military should not be trying to sideline the civilians, as they are now, that there’s going to have to be a way to work with the military, that the military does have an important role to play in the transition and the military does have an important role to play in Sudan after the transition, after democratic elections; when you have a military under the control of democratic authorities, they still are going to have an important, prestigious role to play in terms of preserving Sudan’s unity and security.
But we understand that the civilians are going to be looking for how to lock in some kind of arrangements that would give them trust that the next time there’s some kind of stumbling block in the transition that the military and civilians will find a constitutional way to address it rather than have the military again hijack the transition.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. Our next question is from the live queue and it goes to Simon Ateba from Today News Africa. Operator, please open the line.
Question: Thank you for taking my question, and thank you, Ambassador Feltman, for doing this. This is Simon Ateba with Today News Africa in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Feltman, The New York Times reported that you were given assurances that the – that seemed to [inaudible] of the military takeover, but hours later General Abdelfattah al-Burhan made his move. He overthrew Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, arrested him and his wife and several civilian government, and suspended several articles of the constitution. It’s now been nine days since all that happened, and nine days since you condemned the takeover in a tweet, and several days since President Biden himself called for the restoration of the civilian government, which has not happened.
My question is, again, were you given specific assurances that a takeover would not take place or did you lie? Did you endorse it and later issue a statement condemning it? What did you know? And is there anything the United States can do beyond condemnation and calls to restore Hamdok? And why have you not seen visa-ban sanctions against the military in Sudan? Thank you.
Ambassador Feltman: Thank you. Many questions folded into one question there, sir. First of all, I want to emphasize something I said in my opening remarks, which is that the concern about the military takeover on October 25th is not confined just to the United States or just to the Sudanese people. You’ve seen widespread expressions of concern, widespread calls for a return to the constitutional arrangements of the civilian government. So it’s not simply the United States that is engaged on trying to help the Sudanese people restore their constitutional government; it’s a number of countries, regional and international organizations.
And as I said earlier in the questions and answers, it was clear to us that the transition was encountering some problems. I was in Sudan a couple of weeks ago, went back to Sudan just before the military takeover, spent time with our chargé, with others on the ground because we knew that there were obstacles to be overcome, because we knew that the military and the civilians were eyeing each other with distrust and that there were some divisions between the civilians themselves. And as I said, we were engaged in good faith with military and civilian authorities about how one might overcome those obstacles to revive the momentum behind the transition and to restore the type of trust between the military and the civilian components of the transition.
We did not discuss or envision the type of military takeover and betrayal of the aspirations of the Sudanese people that the military conducted just hours after I departed. Because as I said earlier, we were engaged with them, with the military and the civilians, on ideas of how to address what they said were their ostensible concerns via constitutional means. So there was no hint or no conversation about the potential military takeover.
You may have noted that the United States has paused some of our economic – some of our assistance programs. Not humanitarian. The humanitarian assistance continues to help the Sudanese people. But about $700 million of assistance we’re put on pause because of what the military did, and we’re not the only ones that have moved in that direction. Others have done the same thing.
So again, I think that the military will recognize that they need the type of international support that was being given to the transitional authorities, and the way to restart that type of international support is to restore the civilian transitional authorities.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. I think we have time for just a couple more questions. Our next question is a pre-submitted question from Ali Laggoune from Algeria’s El Bilad newspaper.
And Ali asks: “Sir, if you can go into a little bit more detail on the expected role of regional organizations, such as the African Union and the Arab League, in addressing the situation in Sudan.” Over to you, sir.
Ambassador Feltman: Well, as the questioner is aware, of course, Sudan is both a member of the League of Arab States and a member – as well as the African Union, and both of those organizations released statements immediately after the military takeover. The Arab League called for restoration of constitutional order, called for dialogue to resolve issues. The African Union suspended Sudan from all African Union activities because of the overthrow of the civilian authorities because the military takeover was not consistent with the principles of the African Union. So both organizations have come out with very principled stances, and we’ve been in touch with both organizations to – again, to coordinate positions.
I expect that you will probably see the African Union be engaged. If you look at what the African – at what the African Union Peace and Security Council statement on Sudan said, it talked about appointing a fact-finding mission to go to Sudan. I know that the African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki is looking at appointing sort of an imminent person as an emissary. We’ve been in touch with the – with Chairman Faki and his office. So I think that you will see us working with the region and the international community, again, to try to put the transition back on track in ways that address what were the obstacles to forward momentum even before October 25th.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. We have time for one last question, and our last question is from the live queue and it goes to Joseph Haboush from Al Arabiya. Operator, please open the line.
Question: Thanks for doing this, Ambassador. You mentioned you’re currently in D.C. Do you have any plans to travel to Sudan or the region? If so, then when? And just a second question: Are you concerned that the Russians are helping boost at all the morale of the Sudanese military? Thanks.
Ambassador Feltman: Thanks. I’m in Washington now; I’m looking at travel plans. There’s a lot going on both in Washington in terms of decisions to be made as well as in the region itself when you look at Ethiopia and Sudan and elsewhere. So I’m looking; I’m sort of balancing between the Washington obligations and what I need to do to support efforts in the region. And we’ll have more for you as travel plans firm up.
The Russians – I will say we were concerned by the initial Russian statements after the October 25th military takeover, as they seemed to almost bless the military takeover. But the – but if you look at the Security Council statement that came out subsequently, which the Russians signed on to, you’ll see it’s much more in line with the international consensus – the concern with stability, the need to get back to the transition, and the need to work within the constitutional framework and via dialogue without violence.
And we’ve been – and I will – and we’ve been in touch with the Russians, again, to compare notes and coordinate positions, and they – and while I can’t say that our positions overlap entirely, there is some similarity in that we want to see Sudan to be stable and we want to make sure that the situation on the ground remains nonviolent.
Moderator: Great. Thank you, sir. And now, sir, I’ll turn it back over to you if you have any closing remarks.
Ambassador Feltman: I just would like to thank everyone for their interest in this file. As I think I’ve said, I’ll just – at the beginning, I’ll say at the beginning we really do condemn this dissolution of the transitional government institutions and want to see the October 25th measures reversed in order to find other ways to address what the military says are their concerns about the transition.
Moderator: Thank you, sir. That concludes today’s call. We’d like to thank everyone for dialing in today, and we thank our speaker, U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, for his time. If you have any questions about today’s call, you may contact the Dubai Regional Media Hub at DubaiMediaHub@state.gov.