An upcoming vote on self-determination for the oil-rich southern portion of Sudan has raised fears that the south will seek a unilateral break with Khartoum, which could lead to renewed conflict in a region already devastated by decades of civil war.
The presidents of Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya are attending Friday's special session at UN Headquarters in New York along with ministers from France, Britain, Brazil, Egypt, India, Germany and Canada, among others. Sudan will be represented by its vice president Ali Osman Taha.
Obama advisor Samantha Power says the summit is an "unprecedented show of will and unity" to address the future of the country US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called a "ticking time bomb."
UN officials and diplomats say that preparations for the self-determination vote in southern Sudan, set for January 9, are running far behind schedule. The referendum is part of the 2005 peace accord that brought an end two two decades of civil war in the south, in which two million people died.
Friday's meeting will encourage north and south to work together to ensure that a credible, peaceful referendum takes place on schedule. Diplomatic sources have said that voter registration had not yet begun in a region still without a north-south border.
Other diplomats suggested that President Omar al-Beshir has been deliberately dragging his feet over the issue. Some fear that if the vote is delayed, the Sudan People's Liberation Movement could declare unilateral independence.