The United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman has acknowledged that it would be ‘politically costly’ for the government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali to sit down right now across the table for direct talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Feltman asserted that in the absence of direct talks that may not happen now, the two sides can use ‘discreet’ negotiations through various mediators, especially the African Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo.
“There’s a lot of different ways you can do a peace process that is discreet, and that’s the sort of things the two sides are now talking to us about, that there’s a – it would be politically costly for the Government of Ethiopia right now to sit down with TPLF leaders across the table when parts of Amhara and Afar, the constituents of the government, are under occupation. They don’t have to,” Feltman told reporters in Washington DC on Tuesday after returning from another trip to Ethiopia. “And the fact that they were talking to us about how processes might work politically for them I found encouraging. That wasn’t possible a few weeks ago. The fact that both sides were talking to us about the elements that they would expect to see on the table if they’re in an active proximity talks encouraged me, the sorts of things I said earlier. The fact that the – that what they’ve – that what both sides have defined as their primary objectives can be made compatible, I found encouraging.”
Feltman added, “Now, I don’t want to overstate this case. What I want to say is that we are using our diplomatic channels along with the political support of the neighbors, of the African Union, of the international community more generally, to try to encourage this. I mean, what I would say that what you’re seeing now is that the two sides are starting to think about whether or not they can really achieve their goals only on the battlefield.
“When we talk – there’s politics on both sides. When we talk with the Tigrayan leaders, there are some who recognize that entering Addis could be catastrophic for themselves and catastrophic for the country, and they don’t want to be responsible for the collapse of Ethiopia. But they do want to see the siege that’s been imposed on Tigray since the end of June lifted.
“So are there ways that they can get the humanitarian relief that they need that would strengthen the more moderate voices inside the Tigrayan camp to refute this idea that they need to move – try to move on to Addis? These are the sorts of things that we’re trying to encourage now. There was a little bit of humanitarian relief that we believe reached Tigray today, but not nearly enough to be able to strengthen those voices inside the Tigrayan leadership that, as we would think, as we believe, moving on Addis is just unacceptable and catastrophic.
“So right now, both sides are still pursuing military options, but they are also engaged on the idea that there may be other ways to pursue their objectives. That’s – and they’re engaged not only with us but with others. And that’s what I find, again, marginally encouraging, but I don’t want to overstate the case.”