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George Mitchell's Lessons for Darfur

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I just listened to U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell's press conference on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the other day. Given the difficulties in his current Middle East peace portfolio, he reflected upon his earlier involvement in striking a deal to bring peace to Northern Ireland. He reminded the journalists in the room that during the actual negotiations that took place over a few years, there had been 700 days of conflict and one day of peace. In my own experience working on various African peace processes, protracted negotiations are required for breakthroughs; breakthroughs almost never precede protracted negotiations.

For the last couple of years, we at the Enough Project have been advocating that the U.S. needs to help marshal a set of protracted negotiations that will help break the deadlocks in Darfur. We should help produce a draft peace proposal that addresses the core issues which all Darfuris know so well.

Diplomatic niceties and blunders have prevented this from happening since the disastrous 2006 Darfur Peace Agreement, which did not enjoy the agreement of most Darfuris and therefore did not bring peace. It's time for President Obama and his team to talk with the African Union, the European Union, the U.N., China, and others with influence to step the process up a notch and to push toward implementation of the North-South peace deal.

The stakes grow daily. George Mitchell can share his experiences with the president's team. And the Sudanese themselves know better than anyone that protracted negotiations can produce real breakthroughs, as they did for the North-South deal.

Further delays will necessitate much bigger cemeteries. Mr. President, we need your leadership.