Reporters in Washington D.C. on Tuesday pressed an American official to provide more details following a telephone conversation earlier in the day between U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.
They asked about the dam dispute between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan, and quickly shifted their focus to the crisis in Tigray and the call for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the region.
It was the first phone call between Blinken and Abiy since the government declared a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray on June 28.
The U.S. government later released a readout of their conversation which basically reiterated the same demands, including a permanent and negotiated ceasefire and the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the region.
At a press briefing later in the day by U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price, reporters asked for more.
“What we know is that unilateral announcement needs to be followed up with concrete changes on the ground to end the conflict, to stop the atrocities, and importantly to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance,” Price said when he was pressed for more details. “The people of Tigray have and continue to suffer tremendously, and the ability of this humanitarian assistance to enter the region unimpeded and unhindered is of paramount importance to us.”
Below is the full exchange of their interaction.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, I thought I was going to be asking a follow-up, because I thought you were going to top – do a topper about the Ethiopia call. Let me just ask that Ethiopia question very briefly and then move on to something else. In the call that you guys read out with Prime Minister Abiy, it talked about Tigray and the troops and all that, but it didn’t mention anything about the GERD, about the dam. And as you probably know, the Ethiopians have begun filling it again, and I’m wondering if that came up in the call. And whether it did or not, do you have anything to say about that?
MR PRICE: Well, we did issue a readout of the call with Prime Minister Abiy. We’ll let that readout speak for itself. When it comes to the GERD, what I will say is that we have continued to support collaborative and constructive efforts by the parties involved – and that’s Ethiopia, it’s Egypt and Sudan – to reach an enduring arrangement on the GERD. We understand, of course, the importance of the Nile waters to all three of these countries, and we continue to encourage a resumption of a dialogue that we hope is productive, and substantive, and constructive. In doing so, all along we’ve supported the AU-led process, a process that aims to lower tensions, that aims to facilitate productive negotiations and to enhance regional cooperation.
We do call on all parties to refrain from unilateral action, any unilateral action, that would raise those tensions, that would put greater distance between where we are now and a peaceful, constructive resolution to this. And we call for all parties to commit themselves to a negotiated solution that is acceptable to all sides.
QUESTION: Okay. Just want to follow up on Tigray, because he started with it. When Secretary Blinken asked Abiy for the withdrawal of the Eritrean troops and – what kind of assurance did he get? Or did he get one?
MR PRICE: Well, again, we’re not going to go into the conversation beyond the readout that we did issue. But what I will say broadly is, of course, we all saw the announcement of the unilateral ceasefire late last month, June 28th I believe it was. What we know is that unilateral announcement needs to be followed up with concrete changes on the ground to end the conflict, to stop the atrocities, and importantly to allow safe and unhindered humanitarian assistance. The people of Tigray have and continue to suffer tremendously, and the ability of this humanitarian assistance to enter the region unimpeded and unhindered is of paramount importance to us. We call on all armed actors to commit to an immediate, indefinite negotiated ceasefire, so as to achieve the shared objectives, and they include to end the violence, to restore stability to Tigray, and going forward to create a context for inclusive dialogue that preserves the unity, the sovereignty, and the territorial integrity of the Ethiopian state. We further urge all actors and all parties to focus efforts toward resolution of the conflict through – as I said before – inclusive dialogue, and to allow fully unhindered humanitarian access to, in fact, expedite the delivery of that humanitarian aid. And access must include – but, of course, not be limited to – open transportation corridors and telecommunications infrastructure that would allow for the delivery of this humanitarian assistance for the civilian population. And that includes the ability of journalists to move about freely in the region as well.