JUBA, South Sudan -- Frustrated by a year of setbacks, violence and a looming refugee crisis in a country whose birth it midwifed last summer, the Obama administration sent its top diplomat to dispense some stern advice Friday.
Make lasting peace and an oil deal with Sudan, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told South Sudan's president, Salva Kiir, a day after a United Nations deadline for the countries to make progress toward resolving bitter differences. Sanctions on both are possible if fighting continues.
"A percentage of something is better than a percentage of nothing," Ms. Clinton said, reflecting the U.S. view that South Sudan is only hurting itself by turning off an oil flow on which both countries rely.
Backed by millions of dollars in U.S. and European aid, South Sudan is the world's newest country and, by some measures, its least developed. It is locked in a deadly embrace with Sudan, its detested former overlord, that U.S. officials fear is becoming a war of attrition that the northern country is far better placed to win.
Disputes over oil and territory threaten to destroy a landmark 2005 peace deal that ended what was then Africa's longest-running civil war. Sudan's predominantly Christian and animist south seceded from the largely Arab north in July last year, but the arrangement left borders porous and oil production details messy.
The two Sudans came to the brink of war in April. The fighting has contributed to displacement of 200,000 people.
Ms. Clinton announced an additional $15 million for U.N. aid to the refugees, bringing the U.S. contribution to more than $50 million.
The African Union has been trying to be a mediator between the two sides, but it is unclear whether a deal is near. Sudan has insisted on an agreement covering border security before there are discussions of oil production and revenue sharing.
Ms. Clinton urged an interim deal to get oil flowing now and ease mounting economic problems and unrest in both countries. South Sudan shut off the oil pipelines in January in a dispute over payment. Most of the former united Sudan's oil was produced in the landlocked south but shipped out from the north.
South Sudanese foreign minister Nhial Deng Nhial said in talks in Ethiopia this week that the South had made a "generous offer" of a higher oil transit fee and a $3.2 billion package to compensate for the loss of oil produced in the South.
"You have made your point," Ms. Clinton said during a news conference Friday with Mr. Nhial. "You have brought Sudan to the negotiating table."
The visit was the diplomatic heart of a 10-day African trip. In Uganda later Friday, Ms. Clinton praised the heavily Ugandan military missions fighting al-Shabab militants in Somalia and hunting militia chieftain Joseph Kony.
Ms. Clinton is the highest-ranking U.S. official to travel to South Sudan since its creation as what Washington hoped would be a new friend and a model for constructive deployment of U.S. aid.
South Sudan also represented a repudiation of Sudan's government, shunned by the U.S. after years of terrorism-related sanctions and the war crimes indictment of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir. But it is running out of money and testing the patience of international backers by using oil as an economic weapon.