On Tuesday the Obama administration convened an international conference to see renewed commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between north and south Sudan.

The next day I attended a meeting where representatives of northern and southern Sudan gave their perspectives on the outcomes of the conference. It was supposed to be a time for showing the world how much agreement there was between the parties. Yet, in this short meeting, the parties were unable to conceal their disagreements and significant distrust of each other.

"The world is not round."

It was a strange way to start off a speech, but one of the southern Sudan representatives started out by saying this statement three times -- to mock what he saw as the blatantly incorrect statements that his northern counterpart had made. The dispute on this occasion related to whether or not his northern political party was misusing their majority in Parliament to pass legislation without proper input from the opposition. There were other major disputes aired by the two sides. The two most significant concerns were around the census results and the recent outbreaks of violence in south Sudan.

The southern representatives stated clearly that they were rejecting the 2008 census results because they considered the results the north had produced to be fraudulent. The northern representatives insisted that the census results were fair and accurate. This issue has to be resolved urgently, or an alternative system agreed on, so that preparations can be started for the February 2010 national elections.

The southern representatives alleged that the north is training and arming groups that are fomenting violence and instability in south Sudan. This allegation was vociferously denied by the northern representatives, who suggested that the south may in fact be training Darfuri rebels. The seriousness of this issue is obvious. More than a thousand people have died in south Sudan in outbreaks of inter-tribal fighting in the past few months.

US Special Envoy to Sudan, General Gration, certainly has his work cut out. Encouraging these parties to move forward in partnership with each other to implement the terms of the peace agreement, when there is so much distrust in the air, is not an easy task. But there were some important areas of agreement expressed by the parties.

Both parties stated publicly that they are committed to the CPA, that it was the only thing that they both have to fall back on, and that they had no intention of returning to war with the other side. The northern representatives stated unequivocally that they respected the right of the southerners to choose independence in the 2011 referendum. They made it clear that in their view choosing independence would be an error, but that they would not impede them from going their own way. For their part, the southern representatives said that they were committed to pushing for unity, but "on a new basis." The parties issued a joint public statement confirming these commitments, and stating that they were making joint plans of action. They also agreed to further negotiations with Gen. Gration on points of contention, such as how to deal with the census results.

Thirty-four countries and international organizations were represented at the conference. It also provided an opportunity for the various countries' special envoys to Sudan to meet -- to harmonize their actions and reduce the risks of them contradicting each other or giving the parties the opportunity to play one off against another.

This conference forced the parties to focus on the huge task ahead of them. It is disturbing that such significant disputes remain outstanding. But convening the conference was a worthwhile attempt to re-energize the process of implementing the CPA, particularly when only 19 months remain until the referendum on southern independence is due in January 2011.