Tales from the Trail

In Washington, Clooney shines his star power for Sudan

October 12, 2010

USA/The  normally buzzing White House press gallery came to a halt on Tuesday as film star George Clooney visited in hopes that his megawatt star power would draw mainstream media attention to  Sudan,  and help prompt President Barack Obama and other world leaders to use “robust diplomacy” to prevent violence in the African nation before a crucial election on Jan. 9.

“Right now, at this moment there’s an opportunity here to negotiate this, to negotiate a peace treaty,” Clooney told reporters at the White House after meeting with President Barack Obama. “It’s complicated and it’s difficult and it means negotiating with people who you don’t necessarily like and you don’t necessarily get along with. This administration seems committed to it and we have to focus on that right now.”

Clooney said activists would like to see the global community pressure the government in Khartoum before the election three months from now.  “We’d like to see the international community stiffen up the sanctions that we’ve been using… There’s a lot of money out there that those guys are holding.”

The White House said Obama had “underscored the intensity” of U.S. efforts to ensure that the vote be held on time and to urge the parties to choose a path of peace rather than violence.  The United States will work with the international community to ensure a peaceful and timely referendum, but the ultimate responsibility for Sudan’s future rests with its political leaders, the White House said in a readout of Obama’s meeting with Clooney and John Prendergast, of the “Enough Project,” which seeks to prevent genocide.

“All agreed that northern and southern Sudanese leaders must refrain from inflammatory rhetoric and continue negotiating in good faith in order to secure peace for the Sudanese people,” the White House said.

In Addis Ababa, parties said the latest round of talks between north and south Sudan on the future of the oil-producing Abyei region had failed to reach agreement on Tuesday, three months before the scheduled start of a referendum on whether Abyei should join the north or south — a vote promised as part of the 2005 peace deal that ended decades of north-south civil war. Negotiators will meet again in Ethiopia later in October to continue the talks.

Clooney, whose father has been a Democratic political candidate, acknowledged that he was making his case at a time when U.S. politics are bitterly divided, but said he believed the Sudan issue transcended party differences.

“At a time that is one of the most politicized times ever, this is something that everyone agrees on,” Clooney said. He said he had pushed Obama for “a real, robust diplomacy.”

“We need to turn the lights in every way we possibly can,” Clooney said.

For about 15 minutes outside the West Wing on a sunny Tuesday afternoon, to dozens of members of the White House press corps, he did.

Clooney and Prendergast then left for a meeting with Senator Richard Lugar, a leading Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (Actor George Clooney speaks after a  White House meeting with President Obama )

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