(CN) — The United States and Saudi Arabia announced a humanitarian agreement from the warring factions in Sudan on Thursday night as senior State Department officials rebuffed speculation over what contribution U.S. foreign policy decisions had in the fighting.
Representatives for the warring Sudanese Army (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary have been meeting since Saturday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, to establish a ceasefire and facilitate humanitarian aid.
The U.S. and Saudi Arabia stepped in to facilitate negotiations after a Western-backed agreement to transition to a civilian government unraveled last month into the ongoing conflict. The U.S. largely evacuated its personnel from Sudan almost three weeks ago, as did other countries, when fighting broke out and the State Department has facilitated the departure of more than 2,000 people from the country since that time.
An announcement on the agreement from the U.S. State Department says it “recognizes the obligations of both sides under international humanitarian and human rights law to facilitate humanitarian action to meet the emergency needs of civilians."
It seeks to promote the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, restoring essential services, withdrawing forces from hospitals and clinics, and allowing respectful burial of casualties.
A senior State Department official who spoke from Jeddah on a background call with reporters Thursday sought to defend U.S. foreign policy. The official emphasized that the military has long held power in Sudan and the United States “has been focused on helping the civilians of Sudan resist and overcome Islamic dictatorships and, frankly, military authoritarianism.”
Since SAF General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and RSF Lieutenant General Mohamed Hamdan, known as Hemedti, ousted civilians from the government in 2021, the official said the U.S. has suspended debt relief and lending from international organizations.
“I find it confusing when we’re told that we haven’t been pressing the generals. Again, this is a long line of U.S. policy to push,” the official said. “Our engagement with them has been nothing but pushing them to respond to the aspirations of the people.”
The conflict primarily is over the timeline for incorporating the RSF into the army under a civilian government and a new command structure. State Department officials said they were “clear-eyed” that the issues “were likely to be the biggest stumbling blocks.”
While the agreement does not end the conflict, State Department officials said negotiations will now focus on creating a 10-day ceasefire and international monitoring of any violations.
“We are hopeful, cautiously, that their willingness to sign this document will create some momentum that will force them to create some space for some relief,” an official said. “The two sides are quite far apart.”
The ceasefire monitoring mechanism will be supported by the U.S., United Nations, Saudi Arabia and “other members of the international community,” a senior State Department official said. It will include satellite data, thermal imagery, social media analysis and on-the-ground reporting.
One official said, “We’ve seen violations by both sides in all the ceasefires to date and don’t expect that to change.”
“One of the things that we sensed both sides very much wanted was some third-party mechanism that would allow them to have greater surety about who was committing various violations,” an official said.
There’s still no timeline for the negotiations to incorporate civilian representatives, which some have criticized for undermining a lasting peace and transition to democracy.
But the officials said the State Department has been contacting civilian leaders and intends to eventually “move to expanded talks that would include civilian stakeholders from Sudan and regional and international actors.” The officials noted that the SAF and RSF requested the current negotiations have a narrow focus on military issues.
Eric Reeves, a professor emeritus at Smith College who has been studying Sudan for nearly a quarter-century, said humanitarian aid is “desperately needed,” but the latest agreement “is not a solution.”
“Sooner or later — probably sooner —one side or the other will resume the violence,” he wrote in an email. “The most we can hope for is an accelerated delivery of critical medical supplies. Food/water/electrical repair may be accomplished in some small ways; but the status quo that the [international] community has allowed to prevail ensures that the "fight to the death" will continue between al-Burhan and Hemedti.”
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.