By Organization of Eritrean – Americans (OEA),
We at the Organization of Eritrean Americans (OEA) applaud the former U.S. ambassadors and diplomats who are trying publicly to get American foreign policy makers to revisit and refocus on the festering issues at the root of the crises plaguing the troubled Horn of Africa. Between them, they have many years of experience on the ground in Africa.
This breath of fresh air seeping into the current policy stalemate in U.S – Eritrea relations on the one hand and Ethiopia – Eritrea crisis on the other, started with an article by former Assistant Secretary of State Herman Cohen last month in which he called on U.S. foreign policy makers “to bring Eritrean in from the Cold” and urged the lifting of UN sanctions imposed on Eritrea four years ago.
“In view of the absence of any intelligence, real or fabricated, linking Eritrea with Shabaab for over four years, the UN Security Council should terminate sanctions imposed in 2009 by UNSC resolution 1907,” he said.
Ambassador Cohen said that “all available intelligence indicates that Eritrea has not had any contact [with Somali insurgents] since 2009.” Adding, he said,
“Earlier intelligence reports, denied by Eritrea as fabricated, indicated that the country was facilitating the transfer of funds to Shabaab – nothing of that sort has been reported since 2009 by any source. Those of us who know Eritrea well understand that the Eritrean leadership fears Islamic militancy as much as any other country in the Horn of Africa region.”
This generated a series of articles from other prominent members of the U.S. foreign policy establishment, including David Shinn, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ethiopia from 1996 to 1999, as well as diplomat and former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa, Ambassador Princeton Lyman. The group also includes diplomat and former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell who serves as the Ralph Bunche senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York.
They all agree that it is past time for Washington and Asmara to repair their relations, and for Eritrea and Ethiopia to go towards normalization. U.S. – Eritrea relations were damaged as a result of the tragic policy that was designed to isolate and destabilize Eritrea driven by a well-financed and relentless propaganda campaign by Ethiopia, its highly-paid Washington lobbyists, as well as its enablers.
However, we take exception to three issues, all of which were raised by Ambassador Shinn.
The first one has to do with the sequencing of the steps that need to be taken—also recommended by Ambassador Cohen—so Ethiopia and Eritrea can go toward normalization. “Eritrea needs to be more flexible on the sequencing of issues,” Ambassador Shinn said. “It would be helpful to drop its demand that Badme be turned over first so that negotiations on other issues can begin.” However, Eritrea’s sovereign territory should not be part of any negotiation.
The second issue we take exception to amounts to asking for a retrial of the 2002 Eritrean-Ethiopian Boundary Commission (EEBC) ruling. Ambassador Shinn, in his article, said this: “Both sides must also understand that small, mutually agreeable changes need to be made along other sections of the disputed border.” However, any adjustment outside of what the EEBC decision allows would take the entire process to square one because it would amount to re-adjudicating the case.
The third and final issue reflects a long-standing Washington culture that accepts the false comparison between Ethiopia and Eritrea with regards to U.S. national interest. “Whatever Washington does in the coming months, its relationship with Addis Ababa is more important than the one with Asmara,” Ambassador Shinn said. “Although the United States might decide to try again to improve relations with Eritrea, it will not do so at the expense of its ties with Ethiopia.” This is a false comparison because there are things that Eritrea can offer that Ethiopia cannot, to help the United States in the Red Sea basin and the rest of the region. We were able to see this when Asmara and Washington worked together in the region from 1991-1997. Furthermore, Eritreans don’t begrudge Ethiopia’s good relations with the United States. But, it should not be at the expense of the young–but fast-growing–nation of Eritrea. The U.S. foreign policy establishment culture should recognize this hard reality.
Finally, we again commend the authors for taking the lead in trying to get U.S. foreign policy makers to refocus on the nexus of the crisis ravaging the Horn of Africa region. We hope Washington will not let this opportunity slip away because for U.S. interest it will mean the difference between cooperation and conflict in the fight against terrorism; for the region, it will mean the difference between war and peace; and for the millions in this part of the continent, it will continue to mean the difference between life and death, and between development and sharing on the one hand, and death and destruction on the other.
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