The U.S. Embassy in Asmara announced on Sunday (3) the arrival of the first U.S. Congressional delegation to Eritrea in 14 years as Washington seeks closer ties with the Horn of Africa country.
Chief of Mission Natalie E. Brown welcomed the delegation that was led by Congresswoman Karen Bass, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations.
She was joined by fellow freshmen Congress members Joe Neguse, whose parents fled Eritrea in the early 1980s as it fought for independence and Ilhan Omar.
Omar, who was born in nearby Somalia, told The Associated Press she was impressed with the regional thaw in East Africa after Eritrea and Ethiopia made peace, two decades after a border war killed some 80,000 people. Diplomatic and other ties have been restored, leading to celebrations and emotional family reunions.
The delegation later that day met with Eritrean officials, members of the diplomatic community and young Eritreans, as well as toured the sites of Asmara.
Eritrea’s gov’t spokesperson confirmed in a Twitter post that the lawmakers met the foreign minister, presidential adviser and head of economic development.
“Eritrea has been a mystery,” Karen Bass told reporters in Ethiopia on Monday after visiting Asmara.
“I know that there have been no reforms that have taken place yet but this is very new. I’m hopeful that reforms will take place, most notably in the area of human rights.”
In November, the UN Security Council lifted an eight year old sanctions on Eritrea for lack of conclusive evidence and for normalizing ties with neighboring Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti, opening the way for further interest and investment in this strategically located Red Sea country.
Tibor Nagy, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Africa, visited Eritrea late last year for a groundbreaking meeting with Isaias, later speaking of the possibility of better relations and of U.S. investment.
“We hope to get to the point where relations with Eritrea are just as warm and cordial as those with Ethiopia,” Nagy told reporters.
With the new peace, the international community is watching Eritrea to see what reforms might follow in a country that has been a major source of migrants fleeing to Europe, Israel and elsewhere.