Sudan expressed optimism on Wednesday that a deal could be reached with its breakaway neighbor South Sudan on oil compensation, despite an impasse at the latest African Union-brokered talks.
Negotiations resumed this week in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa after the south accused Khartoum of committing “state piracy,” which it said did not bode well for the talks.
“We cannot say that this round of negotiations failed until we see the progress tomorrow,” Sudanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Al-Obeid Meruh told reporters.
“We are not disappointed ... We believe that we will reach a deal on this issue” eventually, he said.
Sudanese officials say they are taking some South Sudanese oil destined for export as compensation during a dispute over how much the south should pay for using the north’s oil infrastructure.
“This is an act of state piracy on transit goods and is a grave violation of international law committed during what is supposed to be peacetime,” South Sudan’s top negotiator Pagan Amum told reporters in Addis Ababa on Tuesday.
He said the south had profound concerns that Sudan’s “recent unilateral actions” will cause the talks to collapse.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir told a special envoy from Kenya that he is ready to meet South Sudanese President Salva Kiir later this month “because we want to solve the problems by negotiation,” Meruh said.
The proposed meeting could take place at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa scheduled to run from Monday until Jan. 30.
Sudan lost 75 percent of its oil production when South Sudan seceded in July after a decades-long civil war that ended in 2005.
The vast majority of Khartoum’s export earnings came from petroleum, leaving the government scrambling for ways to bolster its finances.
Although most of Sudan’s oil is produced in the south, for now it can only be exported via the north, and the two countries disagree over how much Juba should pay for using the north’s pipeline, port and other infrastructure.
In November Sudanese officials announced that the country would take 23 percent of the south’s vital oil exports as payment in kind during the fee dispute.
Ahead of talks in Addis Ababa this week the US said it was “greatly concerned by recent Sudanese public threats and unilateral actions that impede the flow of oil from South Sudan,” and urged north and south to reach agreement.
However, Meruh said the talks “did not start in a serious way” because the south failed to respond to Khartoum’s demand for compensation of US$36 per barrel.
The south has suggested paying a fee of US$0.70 per barrel.
Meruh said Khartoum had only sent a political delegation to Addis Ababa, adding that technical experts would not go “unless there is progress.”
Sudanese authorities stopped two ships loaded with 650,000 barrels of South Sudanese oil from leaving the export terminal about a week ago because they did not pay the required port fees, the foreign ministry spokesman said.