The United States wants the December 18-22 high-level Igad forum on South Sudan to result in an agreement to halt the violence that has taken tens of thousands of lives during the past four years.
“What we expect the parties to do is use the forum to stop the conflict on the ground and produce a path forward,” Mr Paul Sutphin, the State Department’s senior advisor on Sudan and South Sudan, said in an interview on Sunday.
Any verbal commitment to half the violence must be “verifiable” on the ground, Mr Sutphin added.
He cautioned that a successful outcome of the High Level Revitalisation Forum will be difficult to achieve.
“We’re not going into this with unrealistic expectations of things going forward easily,” he said by phone from Addis Ababa, site of the forum sponsored by the Horn of Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad).
Mr Sutphin warned that the US stands ready to impose additional sanctions on individuals judged to be obstructing peacemaking efforts.
Some analysts view the Addis forum as a last chance to prevent killings, rapes, displacement and hunger-related deaths on a scale even greater than has so far been witnessed.
At least 50,000 South Sudanese have died as a result of the conflict, untold thousands of women have been sexually assaulted, more than two million of the country’s 12 million people have fled across borders, and nearly half the population faces the risk of famine in 2018, according to the United Nations.
Several earlier attempts to implement a 2015 peace agreement between the government and rebel forces have failed. Fighting has in fact spread throughout South Sudan to include outbreaks of tribal killings since that pact was signed by Mr Kiir and rebel chief Riek Machar.
Asked why this new Igad initiative might produce positive results, Mr Sutphin pointed to “an alignment of regional and international support to try to rectify things that didn’t work in the past.”
The African Union, the seven-nation Igad grouping and a “troika” consisting of the US, Britain and Norway are said to be unified in their insistence that the violence must end now.
Igad’s peacemaking ability has been hampered in the past, however, by divisions among its members, with some openly siding with the South Sudan government and others acting behind the scenes in ways favourable to the rebels.
Igad has begun displaying “unity of purpose” in support of peacemaking efforts in South Sudan, Mr Sutphin said.