(Adds quote, background)
WASHINGTON, April 29 (Reuters) - Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s assertion that he will not recognize South Sudan as an independent state if it claims the disputed Abyei region will only inflame tensions, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Thursday.
Bashir made his remarks at an appearance in Southern Kordofan state, apparently toughening his line on the oil-rich border region of Abyei that both sides claim. [ID:nLAE843385]
“Those comments are not helpful at all and they only serve to inflame and heighten tensions,” Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson told a news briefing.
South Sudan voted in January to split from the North, ending decades of civil war, and is due to formally become an independent state on July 9. With strong U.S. encouragement, the two sides are now trying to work out remaining outstanding issues including the status of Abyei.
“It is important that both sides, those in Khartoum and those in Juba, focus intensely on trying to resolve the key issues,” Carson said. The city of Juba will become the capital of South Sudan.
“Abyei is one of (the issues). This must be done before July 9 and it is important that President Bashir and the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, continue to meet (and) negotiate to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.”
The United States has promised to help South Sudan as it becomes independent and has offered Khartoum a package of incentives that could eventually lead to fully normalized diplomatic relations if it implements all aspects of the peace deal and improves conditions in Darfur.
Editing by Philip Barbara