The United States signalled a sharp shift in its South Sudan policy on Wednesday as Washington's United Nations envoy denounced the country's president as “an unfit partner.”
US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley also abandoned the gentle cajolery previously employed by the US in its appeals to neighbouring states to facilitate an end to South Sudan's civil war.
“It is past time for the leaders of Uganda and Kenya to get involved and put pressure on President Kiir,” Ambassador Haley declared in a stinging speech to the UN Security Council.
“They are key players in the success of a true peace process.”
Decrying frequent violations of a December 21 ceasefire agreement, the Trump administration's UN representative warned, “It’s not just a lack of forward momentum; things are going backwards in South Sudan.”
Ambassador Haley's comments serve to distance the US from the government of a country whose birth in 2011 had been midwifed by Washington.
Successive US administrations — Republican and Democratic alike — had aided South Sudan's fight for independence and had financed its attempts at political and economic development.
Ambassador Haley noted in her speech that the US has “invested well over $11 billion in South Sudan and the government of President Kiir.”
“We have treated the Kiir government as a partner in this effort, and we have assumed that the best interests of the people were its priority,” the US envoy recounted.
But through its recent actions, “the government of South Sudan is increasingly proving itself to be an unfit partner for this Council and any country seeking peace and security for the people of South Sudan,” Ambassador Haley declared.
She cited continued moves by the government to block deliveries of humanitarian aid. These include imposing fees of up to $7.6 million on aid groups, Ambassador Haley said, suggesting that this money should be used to shelter two million internally displaced persons or to feed some of the six million South Sudanese facing famine.
“Our attempts to ease the suffering of the people of South Sudan aren’t working,” she continued. “And what’s worse, we’re failing; not despite the leadership of South Sudan, but because of it. The time has come to acknowledge the hard reality that the leaders of South Sudan are not just failing their people, they are betraying them.”
The envoy reiterated the Obama administration's calls for an arms embargo on all sides in South Sudan's conflict.
But while the United Kingdom voiced support for that action on Wednesday, two of the Security Council's other veto-wielding members —China and Russia — did not endorse an arms embargo. France, the fifth veto power, has supported an arms embargo in the past.
Despite her explicit condemnation of the South Sudan government, Ambassador Haley vowed on Wednesday that “the United States will never give up on this effort” to make peace.
UN diplomats were left to wonder what new actions the Trump administration might take as it revises US policy on South Sudan.