October 3, 2023

White House says President Biden following war in Ethiopia closely

President Joe Biden
President Joe Biden

U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. is following the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region very closely, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington D.C. on Friday.

Asked during her daily White House Press briefing how closely were President Biden and the White House following the war in Ethiopia, Psaki said they were “following very closely.”

Psaki said the Biden administration remains concerned about “the threat to the people in Ethiopia” as well as other threats to a World Heritage site which has been taken over by forces from Tigray.

Psaki added that Biden is briefed regularly on the situation during the President’s Daily Brief and updates through his national security team at the Oval Office.
“Obviously, the State Department would be most closely engaged on the ground through our embassy and other officials, as we watch closely. But we are concerned about threats to the Heritage site and, of course, the threat to the people in Ethiopia,” she said.

Psaki’s comments came only two days after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 but has come under intense scrutiny for pursuing war and death rather than peace and stability, failed to meet with President Biden’s top official Samantha Power when she traveled to Addis Ababa on Wednesday.

And although the meeting did not take place, Power’s message was loud and clear: stop the war in Tigray and allow humanitarian access to avoid famine.

Supporters of Abiy Ahmed in the United States told Today News Africa in Washington DC on Thursday night that the Prime Minister deliberately did not want to meet with Power, who is the Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), because she has pushed for humanitarian access into Tigray, a ruse to indirectly supply the TPLF with weapons of war.

Those allegations have long been discredited and the supporters who spoke with this publication did not offer any evidence to back up their outlandish claims. Still, such conspiracy theories may be behind the refusal by the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the international community and negotiate an end to hostilities in the Tigray region in the northern part of the country, which have now lasted more than nine months.

The Biden administration, the United Nations, the European Union, as well as a web of human rights organizations have alleged that grave human rights abuses, including war crimes and ethnic cleansing have been committed by Ethiopian troops and driven parts of Tigray into famine.

The Biden administration has already withheld security assistance for Ethiopia and banned top level government officials from traveling to the United States.

Power’s agency, USAID, holds more than $1 billion in annual aid to Ethiopia and that has been put largely on hold.

The United States, the largest aid donor to Ethiopia, has been helping the Horn of Africa nation with emergency humanitarian support, including food, health and education.

At a press briefing in Addis, Power, the former United States Ambassador to the United Nations under President Barack Obama, talked about “alarming humanitarian catastrophe where 5.2 million people remain in a state of dire need.”

“The U.S. is watching with great alarm as a conflict that began in Tigray is now beginning to spread,” she said. “We now estimate that there are roughly 76,000 internally displaced persons in Afar and 150,000 internally displaced persons in Amhara after TPLF military expansion into neighboring provinces. Other values, values like humanitarian aid workers should be free to do their jobs and never be targeted, attacked, or harassed, and they should have unhindered access to the desperate Ethiopian people whose lives they are trying to save.”

Power detailed U.S. humanitarian intervention in Ethiopia, asserting that “from support for public health to investments in Ethiopia’s agricultural transformation to sustained humanitarian assistance across decades, the United States has deep, deep roots of partnership with Ethiopia.”

“I am proud to announce new investments to support the health and humanitarian needs of the Ethiopian people on top of the more than $149 million in humanitarian assistance to help people affected by the ongoing conflict in Tigray, which I announced last week, today, I’m announcing more than $45 million in funding to expand and intensify the fight against COVID-19 to support health systems, respond to urgent humanitarian needs and support vaccinations,” Power said.  “This is part of $720 million in new funding that the United States, USAID, is providing to fight the pandemic abroad, including $445 million for sub-Saharan Africa to support COVID-19 response and vaccine readiness and urgent humanitarian needs consistent with the African Union’s continental COVID response strategy.  This is itself in addition to the more than 1.6 million U.S.-purchased Johnson and Johnson vaccine doses that by the end of this week will have been delivered to Ethiopia on behalf of the American people.  And as you know, a delivery of the lion’s share of those doses is happening just in the next day.”

Asked at the press briefing whether whether the United States was concerned about language used recently by  Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who has been criticized for using words like “weeds,” “cancer,” and “disease” to refer to the TPLF, Power said, “Well, I did raise in the meeting with the Minister of Peace the points that I would have raised had I seen the Prime Minister, and this was certainly one of them.”

“Concern about inflamed rhetoric, the dehumanizing rhetoric that you referred to, but also increasingly virulent speech that you find on the Internet and in various publications directed at aid workers.  And already, we have seen horrific attacks against aid workers who are doing nothing more than trying to provide food and other forms of assistance to people in desperate need. So dehumanizing rhetoric of the kind that you referred to only hardens tensions and can, and historically, certainly, often accompanies ethnically-motivated atrocities,” she told an AFP correspondent.

The United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide last week was concerned about Abiy’s dangerous language and linked it to the possibility of further atrocity crimes in Tigray and elsewhere.

Power is not new to activism. In 2002, she came to prominence with her book “A Problem From Hell,” which severely criticized the United States for inaction during mass killings in Rwanda and the Balkans in the 1990s, Europe during World war II and the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

President Biden in a statement when announcing her appointment described as her as “a world-renowned voice of conscience and moral clarity.”

The American leader said Power’s voice was “challenging and rallying the international community to stand up for the dignity and humanity of all people.”

On peace and stability of Tigray, Power told reporters that U.S. Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman continues to work “tirelessly around the clock, along with other international partners and in constant dialogue with the parties here on the ground to promote the cause of peace.”

“And my objective in meeting, especially with the Minister of Peace, given her jurisdiction, was to discuss the desperate humanitarian needs that are growing even more acute with every passing day,” Power said. “Our discussions were focused on that. And yes, of course, I stressed the U.S. position, which is our support for an immediate cessation of hostilities, our appeal and demand to the parties to remove themselves from territory along the lines of what you saw me, and the State Department and others speak to yesterday.”

She added: “So even as we appeal to the government to expedite access, to make it easier, not harder, to allow these convoys that are ready, that are filled with food, ready to go, ready to reach mothers, parents who are looking at their kids, and just not even — imagine your kid looking up at you and just, and not having eaten.  I mean, we can feed those kids through our partners, but not if the food can’t get into Tigray.  So I really hope that we’re going to see the access we need now.”  

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