WASHINGTON - The United States offered a rare upbeat assessment Tuesday of Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, saying the indicted leader has not played a "negative role" in efforts to end South Sudan's violence.
Bashir, on a visit to the new country's capital Juba, agreed to set up a joint force to protect vital oil fields, many of which are in rebel hands after weeks of bloodshed.
"We have no indication that Sudan is playing a negative role in the current political crisis" in South Sudan, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
The United States regularly urges countries to bar visits by Bashir, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court over allegations of genocide in the separate Darfur conflict.
Psaki said that the United States still "had concerns about a variety of things" in Bashir's past.
President Barack Obama's administration took tentative steps to repair relations with Sudan in 2011, welcoming Bashir's recognition of the new state of South Sudan which broke away following decades of fighting against Khartoum's largely Arab and Muslim government.
But the thaw quickly ended as US lawmakers and activists accused Bashir of depriving food to thousands in conflict-hit Southern Kordofan and Abyei regions.
The United States has been rushing to end the violence in South Sudan, whose independence was seen as a key US diplomatic success in Africa.
Secretary of State John Kerry, in his latest telephone call to South Sudan's President Salva Kiir, urged him to release all political detainees "immediately."
Kerry and Kiir "discussed the urgent need for both sides to immediately halt fighting on the ground and protect civilians even as talks continue," Psaki said.
The fighting in the impoverished country has pit Kiir against forces loyal to his rival Riek Machar, a former vice president.