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President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is committed to resolving the lingering conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Michael Hammer said on September 20.
Speaking from New York City during a teleconference organized by the Africa Media Hub in South Africa and moderated by Tiffany Jackson-Zunker, Special Envoy Hammer discussed his recent travel to the Horn of Africa in support of the African Union’s efforts to launch talks aimed at ending the conflict in Northern Ethiopia.
Hammer reiterated that there is no military solution to the conflict and that the U.S. government is only trying to seek peace through negotiation.
“The United States is committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and our sole objectives are to seek peace and to provide humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, including those suffering from a very severe drought,” Hammer said in opening remarks before taking questions from journalists.
He said that his recent trip was “very much focused on trying to get the parties, the Tigrayan Regional Authority and the Government of Ethiopia, to stop fighting and to accept and participate under an AU-led process of peace talks, as it is our firm belief – and one that has been stated by the parties – that there is no military solution to the conflict.”
He added, “The Ethiopian people have suffered too much already, and it is critically important that the parties participate, again, in a robust African-led process. There may be questions on how that is shaping up, but my diplomatic engagement was very much focused on trying to see what we could do to advance the African Union-led efforts.
“And specifically, while I was in Addis, I had the opportunity to engage with the senior-most levels of the Ethiopian Government, to listen to their issues of concern, to try to work with the government in terms of how we could advance peace talks; and likewise was able to engage with the Tigrayan Regional Authority representatives to try to, again, urge that there be a cessation of hostilities and certainly that they go to peace talks right away.
“We had opportunities to engage with High Representative Obasanjo together with my colleague, our very able and talented Ambassador to the African Union Jessye Lapenn, on multiple occasions. We also spoke with Chairperson Faki and his team and had the opportunity to also engage my counterparts from the United Nations, the SRSG Hanna Tetteh, as well as with the EU Special Envoy Annette Weber. Together with my colleague, the chargé d’affaires in Addis, Tracey Jacobson, we also did a very fulsome round of engagements – again, focused on trying to move forward on a peace process that can yield the type of lasting peace that all Ethiopians want.
“I should be clear that U.S. policy, as you probably are well aware, is that the United States is committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and our sole objectives are to seek peace and to provide humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, including those suffering from a very severe drought. And so we do this in a spirit of partnership and friendship and trying to address some very difficult and complex issues, but remain quite concerned that the fighting is ongoing and in fact this week here at the United Nations, together with my colleague, Assistant Secretary Molly Phee, who was also in Nairobi for President Ruto’s inauguration, are working with a number of other partners, international partners, to, again, urge that the parties go to talks. There is no other viable way forward.
“And rest assured that the United States is engaged diplomatically at the highest levels, at multiple levels and with many of my colleagues at the State Department, to try to see how working in concert with the African Union and, again, those that are interested in pursuing peace in the Horn, how we can advance on those issues.”
You can read the transcript of the full teleconference below
MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I would like to welcome our participants from across the continent and thank all of you for taking part in this discussion. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer. Special Envoy Hammer will discuss his recent travel to the region in support of the African Union’s efforts to launch talks aimed at ending the conflict in Northern Ethiopia. He joins us from New York City.
We will begin today’s call with opening remarks from Special Envoy Hammer, then we will turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of them as we can during the time that we have.
As a reminder, today’s briefing is on the record, and with that, I will turn it over to Special Envoy Hammer. I think you’re muted.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Thank you. Hopefully now you can hear me. A little technical glitch. Thank you very much, Tiffany, for arranging this media hub call, and thank you all for participating, whether here in the United States, around the continent, or wherever you may be. I hope over the course of my tenure I get a chance to meet some of you if not all of you in person. The job you do as journalists is critical and important not only to the continent but to democracy in general, and I very much appreciate your interest.
As Tiffany mentioned, I’ll be talking about my recent trip, but I wanted to just begin, since this is my first opportunity to engage with all of you, to note that U.S. policy towards the continent and the African Union was set out very clearly by President Biden in his video to the AU summit in February of 2021, where he very clearly stated that the United States wants to partner and be of support to the African Union, to our African partners, as African solutions are sought to address African problems.
You probably have read with great interest the recent National Security Strategy for Africa that was released in August. And so my work as special envoy is to reinforce that in the activities that the United States is involved in in the Horn of Africa.
As you may know, this recent trip is my third trip to the region since I began as special envoy. I was able to go in June to Ethiopia, and then I traveled to the – well, Egypt, Ethiopia, and the UAE, and also had some Sudanese engagements on GERD in my second trip in July-August, and then I just returned from a trip started on September 5th and just ended last Friday on the 16th.
This last trip was very much focused on trying to get the parties, the Tigrayan Regional Authority and the Government of Ethiopia, to stop fighting and to accept and participate under an AU-led process of peace talks, as it is our firm belief – and one that has been stated by the parties – that there is no military solution to the conflict. The Ethiopian people have suffered too much already, and it is critically important that the parties participate, again, in a robust African-led process. There may be questions on how that is shaping up, but my diplomatic engagement was very much focused on trying to see what we could do to advance the African Union-led efforts.
And specifically, while I was in Addis, I had the opportunity to engage with the senior-most levels of the Ethiopian Government, to listen to their issues of concern, to try to work with the government in terms of how we could advance peace talks; and likewise was able to engage with the Tigrayan Regional Authority representatives to try to, again, urge that there be a cessation of hostilities and certainly that they go to peace talks right away.
We had opportunities to engage with High Representative Obasanjo together with my colleague, our very able and talented Ambassador to the African Union Jessye Lapenn, on multiple occasions. We also spoke with Chairperson Faki and his team and had the opportunity to also engage my counterparts from the United Nations, the SRSG Hanna Tetteh, as well as with the EU Special Envoy Annette Weber. Together with my colleague, the chargé d’affaires in Addis, Tracey Jacobson, we also did a very fulsome round of engagements – again, focused on trying to move forward on a peace process that can yield the type of lasting peace that all Ethiopians want.
I should be clear that U.S. policy, as you probably are well aware, is that the United States is committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and our sole objectives are to seek peace and to provide humanitarian assistance to all Ethiopians in need, including those suffering from a very severe drought. And so we do this in a spirit of partnership and friendship and trying to address some very difficult and complex issues, but remain quite concerned that the fighting is ongoing and in fact this week here at the United Nations, together with my colleague, Assistant Secretary Molly Phee, who was also in Nairobi for President Ruto’s inauguration, are working with a number of other partners, international partners, to, again, urge that the parties go to talks. There is no other viable way forward.
And rest assured that the United States is engaged diplomatically at the highest levels, at multiple levels and with many of my colleagues at the State Department, to try to see how working in concert with the African Union and, again, those that are interested in pursuing peace in the Horn, how we can advance on those issues.
So let me stop there because I know there are a multitude of questions, which I’ll be happy to entertain for the time that we have, and if we don’t get to all of them on this occasion I trust that there will be other opportunities for us to exchange on these issues of great consequence in the hopes that, again, we’re able to start a process that will yield dividends for the Ethiopian people, that will bring to an end horrific circumstances and suffering so that all Ethiopians can enjoy a better future. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Special Envoy Hammer. We will now begin the question and answer portion of today’s call. We ask that you limit yourself to one question related to the topic of today’s briefing: the special envoy’s recent travel to the region in support of the African Union’s efforts to launch talks aimed at ending the conflict in northern Ethiopia. The briefing is very full. As a courtesy to your fellow journalists, please keep your questions succinct.
Our first question was submitted in advance by Tsedale Lemma of the Addis Standard, who asks: “What diplomatic leverage is left for the United States to bring the two belligerents to talks – for talks on peaceful resolution of the war that it hasn’t deployed in the past?”
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Well, thank you very much, Tsedale. Appreciate your question. It’s not so much a matter of leverage that the United States brings. I think what we have seen given our historic relationship and strategic partnership with Ethiopia, there’s pretty much a very good understanding that we can be an honest broker, that we can help the parties come together in a support role of the African Union. You may have seen that President Obasanjo on August 4th, after a meeting, made clear that the AU-led process would be accompanied by other partners, international partners, including the United States. He mentioned the EU; he mentioned IGAD as well as the UN.
So I think that what is important here is that the parties recognize that the United States is trying to serve their best interests, the best interests of Ethiopia, which is, again, to begin a process that allows them through dialogue to resolve outstanding, complex, and difficult political issues; that the fighting is not going to yield victory for either side and that, therefore, the focus needs to be on stopping the fighting, ensuring humanitarian assistance delivery, looking at restoration of services, and then, of course, looking to see how those tough political questions that only Ethiopians can decide are addressed through dialogue.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Our next question will go live to Nick Schifrin from PBS in the United States. Operator, can you open the line?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Hi, Nick.
QUESTION: Hey, Mike. How are you? Thanks so much for doing this. Great to see you. Thanks. Thanks, everyone.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Good to – well, good to see you virtually, I guess. Hopefully we’ll meet up someplace.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Are you here in New York?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, I’ll be up by tomorrow, so I’ll send you a note. I appreciate it.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Sounds good.
QUESTION: So, as you know, the Eritreans – sorry, the Tigrayans announced today that Eritrea has launched what the Tigrayans are calling a full-scale assault or mobilization. Is that something that you are seeing, one? And two, what is that a sign of? What are you – what do you fear is coming next and what’s your message to Addis if, indeed, the Eritreans are once again on the move? Thanks.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Thank you very much, Nick. Yes, we’ve been tracking Eritrean troop movements across the border. They are extremely concerning and we condemn it. All external foreign actors should respect Ethiopia’s territorial integrity and avoid fueling the conflict. We couldn’t be any clearer. We’ve said this repeatedly. We will encourage those that might be able to communicate directly with Asmara that this is of extreme concern and must stop. I’m not going to lean forward in terms of other measures that we might be able to undertake, but really this is a conflict from which Ethiopians, Tigrayans, Afaris, Amharans have suffered greatly. And the presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia only serves to complicate matters and to inflame an already tragic situation.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Giulia Paravicini of Reuters in Ethiopia. Can you open the line, please? It’s 6-1-1-5-2-5 – 5-2-1-5. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Can you hear me now?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Yes, I can.
QUESTION: Hi, Mike. Hi, Ambassador. How are you?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Good, good. Thanks for calling in.
QUESTION: So I have one question, which is whether you could confirm that talks between the parties took place in Djibouti and, if so, what was achieved? And as the colleague before me asked, clearly there is an offensive ongoing, so do you actually think that the negotiating parties or at least Ethiopian Government and its allies are still interested in peace talks?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Let me answer the second part first. We saw after the Tigrayan Regional Authority published a letter, a statement on 9/11, which also happened to be Ethiopia’s new year, that they are prepared to go to talks and in fact offered to abide by a mutually agreeable cessation of hostilities. Subsequent to that, we’ve seen statements from the Ethiopian Government repeating and reiterating their prior position that they’re ready to go to talks anywhere, anytime. And we’re taking both at their word in the sense that they are committed to trying to find a peaceful resolution. Of course, the continuing escalation of violence is extremely concerning, and we urge them to stop fighting and get to talks.
Regarding your first question, I appreciate the interest. As you will probably understand, the United States is very actively diplomatically involved in trying to bring the parties to talks, and I am not going to be in a position to share every element of our efforts. But rest assured, we are doing what we are doing in full expectation that the parties are wanting to find a way forward to get to dialogue and our efforts, particularly over the time that I was there in Addis Ababa and we’ll continue this week, is working with the African Union that is making determinations on how best to launch this peace process. There’s High Representative Obasanjo; I understand other mediators may be brought in to bolster the effort. As I mentioned, they’re looking to have international partners like the United States accompany that effort.
And so we’ll have some more meetings here in New York, which I hope will be productive, including with the African Union and others, to see how we can put forward through the AU a viable, robust peace process that gives the parties confidence and that will enable them to then sit across the table and work out some of their political differences.
But again, having foreign actors become involved only serves to exacerbate the crisis and lead to increasing suffering by Ethiopians. So we call on them to stop.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question is live from AFP, Nick Perry in Kenya, I believe. Could you open the line, please? Your line is open.
QUESTION: Hi, Mike. Can you hear me?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Yes, we can. Hi, Nick.
QUESTION: Hi. Yeah, hi, Ambassador. Thanks very much for the briefing today. I did want to follow up with just generally, you’ve been meeting with the highest level of government but also officials in Tigray and international actors, the AU. What sense is there about any optimism that these talks are actually coming any closer to realization? There’s been a lot of rhetoric about hoping that the – or encouraging the Eritreans to withdraw and calling for a cessation of hostilities, but as my colleagues have pointed out, it’s really only going in the other direction. Can you give us a sense of how likely you think negotiations will actually be likely to succeed? Do you – is there a belief that both sides are genuinely committed to a peace process? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Yeah, thank you very much, Nick. I appreciate the question. It’s a good one in that it’s hard at the end of the day to determine what the true intent of the parties are, but we can – we have to take them at their word when they’re saying that they are committed to trying to find a peaceful resolution to this. And we are realists as well. All that we can do as the United States is working with our international partners, with the African Union, to provide a vehicle for them to be able to address these issues. The two parties know themselves extremely well.
These issues are hard but shouldn’t require war. And I will keep trying. It’s my mandate to do so from the Secretary of State, from the White House, to do everything we can in our diplomatic arsenal to try to make this possible. And I think that’s what you’re seeing: engagement at all levels, as I mentioned, with our Assistant Secretary Molly Phee in the region for the inauguration of Ruto, now back here; we had already a series of meetings here in New York yesterday; we have a full schedule. And so it’s no – none of us has a crystal ball, and it’s very difficult to predict. But what I can rest – assure you is that we are intensely working on this issue with not only the parties but in coordination with a number of our close partners and allies, both on the continent, in the region, and extending to Europe.
And so I think you saw a lot of statements from other governments urging the same. I think there’s a chorus of calls for peace talks to start, and we hope the parties will make the courageous decisions to stop the fighting on the battlefield and to sit across the table for the good of all Ethiopians. And I think the more that they hear that there’s international support for a robust process that can help deliver that peace, the more likely it is that hopefully they will abandon any thoughts of continuing to pursue their objectives through military means.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go live to Mohammed Tewekel from Al Jazeera. Can you open the line, please?
QUESTION: One question.
MODERATOR: Jazeera. It’s the last one. Thank you, your line is open. Can you unmute, Mr. Tawakal?
QUESTION: Hello? (Inaudible), I’m going to be talking on behalf of Mr. Tewekel from Al Jazeera office.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Okay, we can hear you.
QUESTION: Ambassador, (inaudible).
QUESTION: Hello, Ambassador. Thank you for this – for allowing us to attend this press briefing. Our question is as follows. The first one is, what is the solution – what is U.S.’s solution to the crisis that is going on in Ethiopia? And our second question is, what is the coordination between the U.S. and the AU when coming to solving this war? And thirdly, why is the focus on this war from the international community more than when there – when there are other crises happening in Africa?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Thank you very much for your question. Just for the record, when Al Jazeera does reporting, they should make sure to get it accurately. They gave my predecessor, David Satterfield, a lot of air in terms of continuing these efforts. I love David, but he’s retired, so now it’s me. I’m just – in any case, this just puts a premium on making sure the reporting is factual and accurate, especially when it’s easy to verify.
In terms of – I think your question is misplaced in terms of what is the U.S. solution. The solution has to come from Ethiopians. It’s their country. All that we can do as the United States is to encourage them to work to resolve these very difficult differences diplomatically through dialogue, and that is what we’re doing. We see the great potential of Ethiopia – an Ethiopia where all Ethiopians can flourish. And that’s the kind of strategic partnership we had with Ethiopia before this conflict started in November of 2020.
And so if the parties are able to make the tough decision to stop hostilities, to start a dialogue, then they will be in a better position to end the suffering of their people and to then try to make progress, as happens in most democracies, through dialogue and through peaceful means.
Secondly, as far as U.S. and AU coordination, it couldn’t be tighter – again, through the fine work of our Ambassador to the African Union Jessye Lapenn, we had multiple meetings with senior leadership of the African Union. We have ongoing dialogue. In fact, as I was coming here, I was getting a call from someone from the AU. I couldn’t take his call because I had to tend to this business of this important press briefing, but as soon as this is over I will call him back. And I think there is a great spirit of partnership – partnership that President Biden offered upon coming to office, and a partnership that we’re intent in trying to provide in support of the African Union. And so there is very good communication, a very good understanding of what we’re trying to get done, and it’s only through the work of us collectively that we stand a chance to have the parties then engage and hopefully deliver peace, which is in all of their best interests. They have to realize that with peace comes prosperity. The fighting will bring only misery.
MODERATOR: Thank you. I would like to read a question that was submitted in advance from Mohamed Maher from Al-Masry Alyoum newspaper in Egypt. He asks, “Ambassador Hammer, you have visited the United Arab Emirates. How can the UAE help stabilize the Horn of Africa?”
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Thank you for your question, Mohamed. And yes, I’ve visited the UAE and in fact I have consultations with other Middle Eastern governments. It’s really important that we all work together, again, to encourage the parties to see that peace and stability can bring economic development and better circumstances for Ethiopians and for the peoples of the Horn. And we very much appreciate our discussions with our Emirati friends and partners. They bring their own perspective and they understand the region supremely well, and it’s only through us all working in concert, hopefully bringing our own perspectives in helping the parties understand how to best resolve their differences at the peace talks, that then we might have success.
But I’ve very much appreciated their engagements – that is, the Emiratis and Saudis and others who are interested in seeing that peace take root in Ethiopia. And of course, as I mentioned, part of my mandate is also to try to encourage the parties to reach a GERD agreement that serves the interests of all three countries: Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt. And again, such an agreement would also be something that would bring stability to the region and would be important in terms of providing opportunities for greater economic investment and development, which, again, serves all three countries.
MODERATOR: Thanks. We’ll take a live question from Zayid al-Harari (ph), who I believe is with Al Araby TV in Ethiopia. Operator, can you open the line, please? Yes, there you go. You can speak now.
QUESTION: (In Arabic.)
MODERATOR: I’m sorry, Mr. al-Harari, if you would like to ask a question in Arabic, unfortunately we can only accommodate written translations. So please write the question in Arabic in the Q&A and we’ll read it out loud. Thank you very much.
Next we will go to Peter Fabricius from South Africa. Operator, can you open the line, please?
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Tiffany. Thank you, Ambassador Hammer. I wanted to ask you a question I heard from an Ethiopian expert on this topic that the Tigrayans are not very happy with Mr. Obasanjo as a mediator as they regard him as being too close to the Ethiopians. I wondered if you could address that problem, that question. Is that true and is – I mean true as in is that the feeling of the Tigrayans, and if so, is there a solution to that?
And if I may also ask you, what do you see as the – as the cause of this new eruption of warfare after nine months or so of relative calm and peace? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Yeah, thank you very much, Peter. Really, for Tigrayan views on the AU-led process and the personalities involved, I really have to defer to them to express themselves. I know they have expressed themselves publicly previously. I would point to their September 11th statement that makes clear that they’re prepared to go to talks under the AU, and we welcome that. Again, I think – I know both parties want to ensure a robust, credible peace process, and that’s what the United States is working to support as the AU puts together how these talks might go forward.
With regards to why the more recent outbreak of hostilities, again, I think that the parties remain in a stalemate, one that can only be resolved through talks, and unfortunately hostilities resumed. Now, when I visited Mekele along with some other colleagues on August 2nd, the Tigrayan authorities were very clear that they were preparing for potential hostilities if there wasn’t a restoration of services as they were making the case that Tigrayans were suffering badly. I mean, it’s not only Tigrayans; in fact, the Afar and Amhara people are without services as well.
And so this is, again, going to the core issues that need to be addressed, and what I appreciated from the Ethiopian Government is they recognized their responsibility for trying to provide services for all Ethiopians. But you need a conducive environment in order to do so. You need a conducive security environment. And the best way to get to that is, of course, agreeing for a cessation of hostilities to work out the modalities of how services should be restored, and that should be done in short order and that’s what we have been urging.
Again, I can’t say this enough: there is no military solution to this conflict, and the sooner both parties recognize that, the sooner that we will be on a better track towards peace.
MODERATOR: Our next question goes live to Ashenafi Endale from The Reporter in Ethiopia. Operator, open her line, please.
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Not very well. Could you please speak up?
QUESTION: Okay. Hello, Ambassador. Can you hear me now?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: A little bit better, yes.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much. So I have just one question. Is the U.S. considering to resume the sanction bills prepared before in light of the continuation of the conflict and (inaudible) the two parties did not come to the negotiation table?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: I think I heard your question more or less. Rest assured, again, the United States is looking at a range of options to encourage the parties to enter into peace talks. And I want to just focus on the positive that can come from it. And while of course there’s always a sanctions option available and we will not hesitate to sanction those that are deserving of being sanctioned, right now our – very much of our focus is, again, on these intense diplomatic efforts that the AU is undertaking, that my colleagues, international colleagues are undertaking, that we as the United States are undertaking to in a matter of hopefully short order begin those talks and get to a cessation of hostilities and ensure, again, a conducive environment for trying to resolve these matters peacefully.
MODERATOR: Next question is to Fred Harter, live from The Times of London in Addis. Operator, can you open the line, please?
QUESTION: Hello, can you hear me?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: We can hear you, yes, Fred.
QUESTION: Great. Thanks very much for the briefing, Ambassador. My question follows on from some of the others. You said that both parties have expressed a preference for a robust peace process and that a conducive atmosphere needs to be made to restore services. I was just wondering if you could tell us, in your discussions with both parties, what appears to be the major obstacles right now towards getting to a cessation of hostilities and stopping the fighting?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Yeah, thanks, Fred. It’s a matter of trust, trust, and trust. There’s no confidence on either side that the other can be trusted, and that is why whether it’s through the AU-led efforts, through efforts of the United States, through efforts of others, that we can hope to bring them together. They are – basically the two sides were once family, and disputes between families can be very rough. But you have to think of all the people who are suffering, who are victims of this conflict, and give a chance to build confidence in each other, and sufficient trust that will lead to gradual steps on both sides to ensure, again, an end to the fighting and to get to a situation like what we had at least during the humanitarian truce, which was significant in the government offering it and the TPLF respecting it, that we had several months after the very hard work of my predecessors and our team, embassy team and AU team in Addis Ababa, to ensure the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
And while it took several months, it had gotten to a decent level and fuel had finally begun to flow into Tigray that was going to enable further distribution to all of those in need, when, then, hostilities resumed and we had that very unfortunate incident of the seizure of 12 fuel – WFP fuel trucks by the TPLF. And that also needs to be addressed.
But rest assured we as the United States and others will continue our efforts to try to help the parties build some confidence, build some trust so that then they can be confident that with the support of the international community that commitments made will be commitments abided by and that that will start – again, start us down a road towards peace.
MODERATOR: We have time for two questions. We’ll take one live from Samuel Tamene of EBS Television. Operator, can you open the line, please? He’s based in Ethiopia. Samuel Tamene, if you can unmute yourself, you’re open to talk.
Okay, I think while we sort him out I’ll read a question that was sent in in advance from Mr. Vincent Léonard of RFI Africa Service in France. He’s asking about the UN. He asks, “Regarding the UN General Assembly, is there a U.S. initiative regarding Africa? Macron is lobbying South Africa to provide political and diplomatic support for the Western position on Ukraine. Is the U.S. doing the same?”
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Well, again, thank you much for your question. Very topical as here we are in New York for yet another UNGA. And I was speaking with Secretary Blinken yesterday, and clearly – and President Biden has an opportunity to address the world tomorrow, Wednesday, and so I don’t want to get ahead of my President. But it’s very clear that we have made it a priority to work on global health, our support for experiences in DRC, but I’m seeing it in Ethiopia and across the continent for helping develop medical solutions and knowhow for addressing some tremendous diseases. It began with our efforts with PEPFAR, which I’m sure you’re all aware of, many decades – a couple of decades ago. But now it’s expanded to address the COVID crisis and now we’re looking at possibilities to combat malaria.
And so it’s underreported what the United States has done through the generosity of the American people in terms of advancing on key issues of global health which ultimately save African lives, which save lives around the world.
Secondly, you have seen the efforts of what we’ve done in terms of food security, and we will continue to do that. It is an ongoing crisis exacerbated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and limiting exports of grain and other critical supplies. We’re encouraged that some grain is now starting to flow, but we fully realize the struggles of many African countries who are dependent on this grain for their food security and that people are in dire and desperate need. The best way to address that is to – for the Russians to stop and withdraw and end their invasion of Ukraine.
We will continue to work on this. I was very honored to hear about an additional $488 million that the United States will be providing Ethiopia specifically to increase humanitarian assistance and address drought relief. You know that the issues of climate change are primary for President Biden, for this administration, through Secretary Kerry’s efforts as our special envoy. There’s COP27 coming up soon in Egypt. We had a meeting with Foreign Minister Shoukry just yesterday in which this was a major topic of conversation.
So rest assured we have a very broad agenda. What the United States does in the continent matters. It matters because it saves lives. It helps people’s development. We have tremendous educational and exchange programs. And that sometimes – those stories don’t get told as frequently because we focus on crises and wars. But I’m very proud of what the United States does and I’m very proud of what – the work that our USAID through Administration Power and the teams that we have in the field to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance to people most in need, to the most vulnerable. I’m proud of the work we do to help refugees and as major supporters to ICRC and to other organizations that provide for the most needy.
And so I think this week will allow us to build on those efforts to try to work with other partners in sharing the generosity of the American people and to – and for maximum effect. And again, this is just an opportunity to highlight that the U.S. relationship goes far beyond the headlines of trying to – and of course this interest – this press availability relates directly to it because you’re concerned about matters of war and peace. And at the same time, we continue to provide assistance to Ethiopians in need all across the country. And I’ve had opportunities to talk to different diaspora groups in the United States representing multiple ethnicities, whether it’s the Oromo, the Amhara, the Afar, the Tigrayans of course, those from Somali Region, and other regions, and there is a lot of need and we do our best to help those that most require assistance, but the goal here is to achieve peace and to then enable countries to pursue their economic development plans, to promote investment – again, to create prosperity, which is really the ultimate desire of all peoples, and certainly of the people on the continent.
MODERATOR: Well, thank you very much, Ambassador, Special Envoy Hammer. And that is all the time we have today. You’ve given us a generous amount of your time. I know you have many meetings and interviews following us. Did you have any brief words as we close?
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: No, again, a shout-out to all of you journalists on this phone call. In my experience, whether it was in DRC or serving in other countries and now in the Horn, the work that you do is courageous, it’s important, it’s difficult. I appreciate all your questions – the tough ones; I prefer perhaps the easy ones. But hold us accountable as a government. Hold the governments where you’re reporting from accountable. Expose corruption, expose human rights abuses, and hold those in power to account.
Your jobs are really important for democracy and for the people that you’re trying to inform, and I have utmost respect for your efforts, and again, look forward to having an opportunity to meet some or most of you in person at some point. Throughout my career I’ve really appreciated the media and the press and its importance in – for a democracy. Liberty of expression and press freedom are paramount. So even in your toughest days, know that what you’re doing matters. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: Thank you. And that concludes today’s briefing. I would like to thank the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Mike Hammer, for speaking to us today and thank all of our journalists for participating. If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at AFMediaHub@state.gov. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR HAMMER: And thank you, Tiffany and the hub. I remember back in the day when I was assistant secretary of public affairs and this was just getting going, and it’s thriving. So again, thanks for the opportunity to engage with so many journalists, and I hope we’ll be doing this again sometime soon.
MODERATOR: It’s mutual. Thank you. Goodbye.