Speaking to reporters December 23 in a conference call from Juba, Booth said Kiir committed to begin talks with former Vice President Riek Machar without preconditions, and allowed Booth to meet with 11 senior members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) who have been detained on charges of planning a coup against Kiir’s government.
“I can report that they are secure and well taken care of. These individuals communicated to me their desire and their readiness to play a constructive role in ending the crisis through peaceful political dialogue and national reconciliation. I'll be following up to see how the government may utilize this constructive position,” Booth said.
The ambassador said the Obama administration also welcomes the political engagement of the East African regional organization IGAD (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) in South Sudan and he urged the group to “move swiftly in engaging the government and opposition forces with a view to beginning talks and ending hostilities and their underlying political causes.”
“The United States emphasizes the urgency of the situation and stands ready to support these efforts as necessary,” Booth said.
A senior Obama administration official told reporters via teleconference that the United Nations will be requesting increased assistance for its peacekeeping forces in South Sudan. According to a U.N. spokesman in Juba, U.N. compounds in South Sudan are sheltering more than 40,000 civilians from the violence.
The official also said a statement by Machar indicating he is ready for dialogue could make talks with Kiir possible, but acknowledged there are “a lot of details” to work out ahead of any discussions.
The crisis in the country warrants a “high level of U.S. engagement,” the official said.
“We have a longstanding interest in seeing South Sudan succeed, and we will work to try to ensure that they step back from the precipice … and find a way to stop the violence, begin the political discussion that’s needed to find a way” that South Sudan’s different ethnicities and political factions “can live together,” the official said.