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The longer Sudan's violence drags on, the greater the danger for the region

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For the most part, a cease-fire continues to hold in Sudan. Diplomats are struggling to bring the country back from the brink. Two rival generals are fighting for power and dashing hopes of a transition back to civilian rule. The U.S. had to suspend operations at the embassy, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken insists that the U.S. is not giving up on Sudan, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Amjed Farid has temporarily moved his family out of Khartoum as fighters take over whole neighborhoods and put civilians at risk. He was an adviser to the prime minister, who was ousted over a year ago, and he's looking to the U.S. to do more to get Sudan back on track.

AMJED FARID: The U.S. is claiming to be supporting the democratic transition towards civilian government in Sudan. I'm just calling on Biden administration to walk the talk of what they claim.

KELEMEN: Farid says lots of countries meddle in Sudan. Russian mercenaries have helped one of the generals. Egypt backs the other. But he's also frustrated with U.S. diplomats who he says should have been much tougher with the generals rather than, in his words, coddling them.

FARID: Coddling those generals too much into the way that it fit their lust for power and led to war.

KELEMEN: One former U.S. official who has worked on Sudan, Cameron Hudson, thinks the U.S. miscalculated, putting too much trust in what the generals said about their commitment to restoring civilian control. He says Sudan had been trying to emerge from decades of authoritarian rule when the generals upended that transition.

CAMERON HUDSON: To see it kind of fall apart now and the whole country kind of go up in flames, I think is a - you know, is a real bad signal for the ability of the United States and its allies to help bring about these kinds of transitions not only in Sudan, but all across the region.

KELEMEN: There is a lot at stake in Sudan, says Susan Stigant, who runs the Africa program at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

SUSAN STIGANT: Sudan sits at the crossroads between North Africa, the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and into the Red Sea, where I think it's upwards of $700 billion of economic trade flows. And so having a stable Sudan that looks to the United States as a partner - as a core partner - that's incredibly strategic.

KELEMEN: Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have financial interests in Sudan. Egypt shares a long border and a significant source of water, the Nile. And Stigant says the U.S. has to make sure that all the countries are on the same page to get a more permanent cease-fire and get the political transition back on track.

STIGANT: This is not going to work with 17 different initiatives that are going in 17 different directions or where there's just a small amount of agreement. It's really going to require a rethink. And I think that's part of the role that the United States can play, right? Many of these countries are close partners.

KELEMEN: The U.N. secretary general is calling on countries to help bring Sudan back from the brink of abyss. Diplomats are concerned that if the fighting continues, rebels from other conflicts could be drawn in. Cameron Hudson puts it this way.

HUDSON: If you look at where Sudan sits on the map, it is surrounded by a host of highly fragile states which are all either currently in some kind of internal rebellion or coming out of some kind of civil conflict. And so whether that's Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, these are all highly fragile states.

KELEMEN: The U.S. long considered Sudan a state sponsor of terrorism. Hudson says many of the same actors responsible for atrocities are still on the political stage.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.