Blinken to visit Addis to ‘Refreshen US Relations with Ethiopia’

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken is set to visit Addis Ababa in a bid to renew US relations with Ethiopia and discuss the implementation of a peace deal ending the conflict in the northern part of the East African nation.

Secretary Blinken will travel to Ethiopia next week as part of his mini tour to Africa which also involves a visit to Niger.

“This visit will be part of our ongoing and dynamic engagement with the Ethiopians to help consolidate that peace,” US Assistant Secretary for Africa Molly Phee told reporters via teleconference on Friday.

The two-year conflict ended after the cessation of hostilities agreement between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed in Pretoria.

State Secretary Blinken plans to meet federal government officials including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, and the Tigray region.

“I do not expect a stop in Mekelle, though,” Assistant Secretary Phee said.

The visit could be a positive sign for the country, which was hit by US sanctions including a ban on Ethiopian products from duty-free access to the U.S. market under the AGOA act, over the conflict, weakening the ties between the once close allies.

AGOA Off the discussion table for now

Following the peace deal, the two countries held several high-level discussions on various occasions including during the recent Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s visit to Washington for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

Still, Assistance secretary Phee says she is “not sure to use the phrase back to normal” to describe the current status of the Ethiopia-US relations but said Washington’s objective is to take the ties back to where it was previously.

“What we’re looking to do is refashion our engagement with Ethiopia. You know historically we’ve had a strong partnership with Ethiopia,” Phee said while responding to a question on whether the AGOA sanctions or other trade deals will be on the discussion table when Blinken visits Addis Ababa.

The US, the Assistant Secretary continued, “would like to have a partnership that’s commensurate with their size and influence and with our interests and commitment to Africa.”

“But to put that relationship in a forward trajectory, we will continue to need steps by Ethiopia to help break the cycle of ethnic political violence that has set the country back for so many decades, including most acutely in this recent conflict,” she said.

Phee expects the discussions during the visit to focus more on issues raised in the conversations that PM Abiy and his delegation had with both Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan on the margins of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

“I view this visit as an opportunity, again, to recognize the leadership shown by everyone involved in ending the fighting and in implementing the cessation of hostilities agreement and to talk about the U.S. role in fostering a positive new trajectory for the country,” she added.

Blinken, AU chief to discuss Africa’s Role in intl platforms

In Addis Ababa, State Secretary Blinken will also meet with African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat to discuss “global and regional priorities”.

Assistance secretary Phee said the meeting would give the chance to Blinken “to follow up on lots of discussions” that took place in the recent U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit.

“And we particularly want to continue the dialogue on how to raise the African voice in international institutions, whether that’s at the Security Council, at the G20, or reforming the (multilateral development banks) MDBs dialogue,” Phee noted.

Blinken’s tour to Africa involves a trip to Niger, becoming the first American secretary of state to visit the west African nation.

Phee says she was thrilled that Blinken will be the first American secretary of state to visit Niger, describing the country as “an important” ally of the U.S.

“We admire greatly their devotion to democracy, to skillful management of the difficult terrorist environment in the Sahel, and we’re looking forward to discussions with those leaders,” the US Assistant Secretary for Africa added.