Again, U.S. details position on Ethiopia, urges all warring sides to embrace peace and not war, asks Americans to leave country immediately

The United States government again on Monday called on all sides in the Ethiopian conflict to embrace peace, lay down their weapons and talk.

At a U.S. State Department press briefing, spokesperson Ned Price received several questions on Ethiopia and he provided an update on the situation on the ground and the trip by Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman to Ethiopia, as well as U.S. engagement there.

“Let me just reiterate that we remain fully engaged in efforts to move all sides towards an immediate cessation of hostilities,” Price said. “All of those in need, regardless of ethnicity, should have immediate access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance. We call for an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations being committed against civilians. Our embassy in Addis Ababa remains open under the leadership of our ambassador. Special Envoy Feltman does remain in the region, where he is working to further our diplomatic efforts, and we urge all parties to end restraint – to use restraint, excuse me, to end hostilities, to respect human rights, and to protect civilians on the path towards an immediate cessation of hostilities.”

Price added, “Let me make a couple other points before I talk about our diplomacy. As you know, our embassy went to ordered departure recently. We are urging U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to depart the country, using commercially available options. We’ve been saying this for several days now. We understand that commercial options remain available in Addis. The embassy is in a position to help the American citizen community in Ethiopia secure their departure from the country. We understand there is adequate space available, capacity available, on these flights. And, in the past several days, there have been more than a dozen flights leaving the airport in Addis.”

You can read the interaction between reporters and Price during the press briefing at the US Department of State in Washington DC on November 8, 2021.

[Excerpted …]

QUESTION: Can we go to Ethiopia? Can you tell us if Special Envoy Feltman is still in Ethiopia, is traveling in the region, if he’s back from Ethiopia? What are the results of his multiple engagements over the weekend? Do you have any sense that he is making progress there? And, also, is he having any engagement with the TPLF or the – or Oromo Liberation Army, or you’re not talking to them?

MR PRICE: Sure. To your question, the temporal reference is important. I think the last time we were in this room, Special Envoy Feltman was in Ethiopia. He has since left Ethiopia to return. Let me come back to that and unpack that a little bit.

Before I do, let me just reiterate that we remain fully engaged in efforts to move all sides towards an immediate cessation of hostilities. All of those in need, regardless of ethnicity, should have immediate access to lifesaving humanitarian assistance. We call for an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations being committed against civilians. Our embassy in Addis Ababa remains open under the leadership of our ambassador. Special Envoy Feltman does remain in the region, where he is working to further our diplomatic efforts, and we urge all parties to end restraint – to use restraint, excuse me, to end hostilities, to respect human rights, and to protect civilians on the path towards an immediate cessation of hostilities.

Let me make a couple other points before I talk about our diplomacy. As you know, our embassy went to ordered departure recently. We are urging U.S. citizens in Ethiopia to depart the country, using commercially available options. We’ve been saying this for several days now. We understand that commercial options remain available in Addis. The embassy is in a position to help the American citizen community in Ethiopia secure their departure from the country. We understand there is adequate space available, capacity available, on these flights. And, in the past several days, there have been more than a dozen flights leaving the airport in Addis.

We are providing a range of services to the American citizen community in Addis. We are prioritizing that even as we have gone on ordered departure to reduce our footprint from our embassy in Addis.

We, importantly, can even provide a repatriation loan for U.S. citizens, who cannot afford at this time to purchase a U.S. commercial – a commercial ticket to the United States. U.S. citizens in Ethiopia who are interested in pursuing these options, and we encourage all of them to do so, should contact the embassy. There is an email address available on the embassy website.

We are, as I said, engaged in concerted diplomacy to urge all parties to end the hostilities immediately. We have called on the Ethiopian Government and the TPLF and the OLA to enter into negotiations without preconditions towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities, and for Eritrean forces to withdraw immediately and permanently from Ethiopia.

Now, when it comes to Ambassador Feltman’s activity in the region, he returned to Ethiopia today, from Kenya – and I’ll come to that – to continue to urgently press the parties to de-escalate the conflict and negotiate, as I said before, a cessation of hostilities.

He continues to raise our concern about the risk of intercommunal violence, and that is a concern that we’ve raised repeatedly with Ethiopian authorities and regional authorities in recent days. But following his meeting – meetings on his current trip, we believe there is a small window of opening to work with the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, former President Obasanjo, whom he will see again tonight in Addis, where Ambassador Feltman has returned, to further joint efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict in Ethiopia. We are working with international partners to address the crisis in Ethiopia, including through action with the UN, the AU, and other relevant partners and bodies.

You all may have seen some of the statements that have emanated from the region in recent days, in recent hours. Of course, the UN Security Council, which will hold an open session on Ethiopia today, released a statement. And as Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said, the council spoke with one voice, calling for an end to the violence and a cessation of hostilities. You may also have seen that President Kenyatta, with whom Ambassador Feltman has met in Nairobi in recent days, issued a similar statement, calling for dialogue and urging a few points. President Kenyatta made many of the same points that we have been making: All hostilities must cease. A political solution is the only solution. There should be no incitement – no incitement to violence. Instead, we must work to de-escalate tensions and hostilities. He noted the fact that we must address the humanitarian situation with some urgency, and the parties to the conflict must allow humanitarian access, which has been restricted for many of those in need for far too long; and of course, the imperative of respecting human rights for all and by all.

And so, the actors, the forces in Ethiopia have heard a consistent message emanating from the United States, emanating from other countries in the region, emanating from the UN Security Council. Of course, the conflict in Ethiopia predates this administration. Unfortunately, it was last week that we marked a somber milestone: one full year of violence in Tigray. And since the earliest days of this administration, President Biden, Secretary Blinken have prioritized our diplomacy to find a way out of this violence. It has involved not only the special envoy, but Secretary Blinken in his repeated engagements, the National Security Advisor, Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman, Assistant Secretary Phee – all of them have been very much engaged in this.

We have held – and Special Envoy Feltman, in his seven or so months on the job, have held over – has held over 300 engagements with the AU, with the UN, with the EU, with regional neighbors as well. This diplomacy has been concerted. It has been intense. If you just look at the schedule that Ambassador Feltman has maintained over the past few days where he has shuttled back and forth between Ethiopia and Kenya – as I mentioned before, as of today he is now back in Ethiopia, he is back in Addis.

We will have more to read out when his trip concludes, or at least this chapter of his trip concludes. As we’ve made clear, last week on November 4th, he met in Ethiopia with a number of Ethiopian officials and regional officials. He met with African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki. He met with Ethiopian Minister of Defense Belay, Minister of Finance Ahmed Shide, Deputy Prime Minister Hassen. He met with Prime Minister Abiy the following day, on November 5th. And, over the weekend. he met with President Kenyatta in Nairobi to consult on Ethiopia.

As we’ve said, we certainly value the leadership that President Kenyatta has demonstrated, and we appreciate the constructive visit that Special Envoy Feltman had to Nairobi from where he has just traveled, back to Addis.

When it comes to the TPLF, we have engaged with the TPLF, as well. We are engaging with the parties to try and put them on a path to a cessation of hostilities, which is our priority now and going forward.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I go back to Ethiopia? Will Ambassador Feltman meet with Prime Minister Abiy during this current stop while he’s there? And then there’s also reports that Tigrayan residents in Addis are being targeted for mass arrest. Is the State Department aware of these reports, and do you have any comment?

MR PRICE: When it comes to Ambassador Feltman’s travel, and his current stay in Addis, we’ll update you as we’re able with additional meetings. As I mentioned, he is meeting with the AU’s representative for the Horn of Africa, former President Obasanjo, today, but we will update you as additional meetings come into the – are confirmed.

We have seen reports that those with Tigrayan ethnicity are coming under – are being harassed or worse. Of course, those reports are concerning. It is part of the reason why we have called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, knowing that the potential for inter-communal violence remains high. We are deeply concerned about the potential for escalating inter-communal violence. It is why we are engaged with a number of actors, a number of officials in the Ethiopian Government – why we have engaged with the TPLF, why we are working at this very concertedly.

QUESTION: On Egypt, you said that one of the topics of discussion is regional security. Sudan is one of them. Do you see the Egyptian position identical to the U.S.? Where do you differ? Where do you agree? And why we didn’t see Egypt on the signatory of the Quad statement that you issued last —

MR PRICE: So, I will leave it to Cairo to explain their position on Sudan. What I will say is that regional security and specific – and developments in certain countries will be on the agenda, and that includes what has transpired in Sudan on October 25th, and the days since. They will – Secretary Blinken and his Egyptian counterpart will discuss ongoing efforts to restore the civilian-led transitional government and to prevent violence in Sudan.

A lot has been made of the Quad statement that was issued last week. It was an important statement because it did carry the signatures of the United States, the United Kingdom, of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, calling for a restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. The Quad for Sudan is, as you – as the name would suggest – a collection of four countries in the Sudanese context.

QUESTION: An assistant to the secretary general of the Arab League said that a solution to the crisis in Sudan is imminent. Are you aware of any development that could indicate, actually, that would be ending the crisis soon?

MR PRICE: Look, we – as I have said already in the context of Ethiopia – but Ambassador Feltman and the team here, including Secretary Blinken, who has had engagements both with Prime Minister Hamdok and General Burhan in recent days – we are working to see a resolution to this. And in our minds, there is only one resolution – one appropriate resolution – and that is the restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. So, we are working on that. We are doing that across multiple diplomatic fronts and through multiple diplomatic channels. I think it’s best not to characterize the progress there. But again, in our mind, there is only one appropriate resolution to this, and that’s the restoration of the civilian-led government.

QUESTION: Sorry, one last question. I don’t get the chance to ask you questions.

MR PRICE: Of course. Of course.

QUESTION: So, one last question on Egypt and Ethiopia as well: You said one of the discussions was about the dam, which was a sticking point between the three countries. Two of them now are going through strife or turmoil, or civil war, if you want. So what’s going to happen to that, considering that what’s happening in Ethiopia and in Sudan – does this adversely affect this negotiation, obviously? And you worry about it, that it might go completely out of hand.

MR PRICE: Well, developments vis-à-vis the GERD and developments in these countries won’t affect the bottom line, and that is that we will continue to support a collaborative and constructive efforts by these three countries to reach an enduring arrangement on the dam. Obviously, this is an issue that is of high importance to all three countries, given their reliance on the Nile River waters, and we’ll continue to engage with these countries to find a solution that’s acceptable to the three of them.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to Sudan, about these statements from Burhan this morning regional time. He said that he will not walk back the October 25th steps that he took, and he will not be part of any government that comes out of a deal, a negotiated deal. Do you think that this is an approach that you can support, the no Burhan, no Hamdok for the future?

MR PRICE: Again, our bottom line is – and the bottom line of the international community – and we have heard a number of countries, a number of international institutions, a number of international bodies speak with one voice on that. And that is that there needs to be a restoration of the civilian-led transitional government. There needs to be a restoration of what it is that the military sought to topple.

This is – these are – what is most important is that these are not our objectives. These are the aspirations of the Sudanese people. We have seen the Sudanese people take to the streets to march peacefully throughout Khartoum and other cities and towns across Sudan. Millions of Sudanese have done so, and they have done so to clearly underscore where it is that – and what it is that they feel needs to happen. There is no ambiguity about what the people of Sudan want, and there should be no ambiguity about where the United States, where our allies and partners stand on this as well.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that real quickly, because the Secretary said that the U.S. shared that interest with the Egyptians, but there are reports that the Egyptians supported this military takeover. So, can you square that?

MR PRICE: What the Secretary said in his opening remarks and as – what I said in the topper as well – is that we will discuss with our Egyptian partners the need to restore the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan. Again, I’m going to allow the Egyptians to characterize the nuance of their position, but certainly this will be a topic of discussion with our Egyptian counterparts. There is a widespread, shared consensus that the civilian-led transitional government in Sudan needs to be restored and needs to be restored immediately.

[For full text of briefing, please follow this link]. 
Chief White House Correspondent for

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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