What will Eritrea get out of Donald Yamamoto’s visit?

2018-04-25 21:39:20 Written by  Martin Plaut Published in English Articles Read 383 times

Africa, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Horn of Africa
 
Date: 25/04/2018
Author: Martin Plaut
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Donald Yamamoto is the most senior African diplomat in the Trump administration.

His visit to Eritrea has ended (see below) but the State Department is making no comment on what was achieved until his trip to the Horn of Africa is over. This includes a visit to Djibouti and then Ethiopia on Thursday, 26th of April.

So what might have been on the table? Ethiopian sources speculate that his tour of the Horn might lead to a lifting of sanctions against Eritrea and support for peace talks between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The well-informed magazine, Jane’s, agrees.

They may be right. But it is important to remember the context.
 
Eritrea has – repeatedly – offered the US navy access to its ports. The American military have considered the option from time to time. [See below]

But Eritrea also has a history of harassing the United States diplomatic mission, by arresting and imprisoning dozens of Eritrean local staff. Ronald McMullen, who served as US ambassador to Eritrea from 2007-2010 revealed that “Forty eight of our Eritrean employees have been arrested from 2001 to 2010. Some have been arrested for many years; others were arrested for several weeks or months and kept in horrible conditions.” [See below]
 
So there could be gains for both sides. If President Isaias Afwerki is prepared to guarantee that the US can have normal diplomatic relations and its staff can work unhindered, then there might be movement on the rest of the agenda.

Certainly, progress on a resolution to the Eritrea – Ethiopia border dispute would be a huge gain for the people of both countries. Can Yamamoto make progress? He is a man of immense experience in Africa. Few are better placed, but the problems are extremely intractable.

Let’s see what happens.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Yamamoto Travel to East Africa
Source: Media Note: Office of the Spokesperson, US State Department
Washington, DC
April 21, 2018
 
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Ambassador Donald Y. Yamamoto will travel to Eritrea from April 22-24 for bilateral consultations with Eritrean government officials, to meet with the diplomatic community, and to visit the Embassy’s staff based in Asmara. He will then lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Djibouti Binational Forum April 24-25 in Djibouti, our annual dialogue on matters of political, economic, assistance, and security cooperation. Ambassador Yamamoto will travel to Ethiopia on April 26 to meet with Ethiopian government officials to discuss shared interests and concerns.

Eritrea Pushes to Get U.S. Base
Source: Washington Post

By Judy SarasohnNovember 21, 2002

“Why Not Eritrea?” That’s what the government of Eritrea, a poor African country, wants to know and what it has its lobbyists asking in Washington.

The issue paper “Why Not Eritrea?” pushes the country’s plan for the United States to take advantage of its strategic location in the Horn of Africa as a military staging ground in the buildup toward a looming war with Iraq. After all, the surrounding nations are members of the Arab League and not what one would call very supportive of U.S. interests, the paper says. Even Djibouti, already host to about 3,200 U.S. troops who are being trained in desert warfare, has voiced reservations about U.S. intentions.

Eritrea notes that it is pro-American and half Christian, half Muslim.

U.S. officials are considering Eritrea’s offer, and Gen. Tommy Franks has visited the country.
But to help make sure its message gets heard — and accepted — Eritrea has hired Greenberg Traurig, the law firm that includes a lobbying team headed by Jack Abramoff, who has close ties to the new House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

According to Greenberg Traurig’s contract with Eritrea, included in the firm’s Foreign Agents Registration Act filing at the Justice Department, the country is paying Greenberg Traurig $50,000 a month for helping “in implementing its public policy goals in Washington.” That’s $600,000 for the yearlong engagement from April 15, 2002, to April 14, 2003.

By the way, the CIA World Factbook 2002 pegs Eritrea’s per-capita gross domestic product at about $740 for last year. Eritrea, which gained its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, went through a punishing war from 1998 to 2000 with its neighbor. Eighty thousand people were killed, and hundreds of thousands were displaced.

“Their biggest issue is they want to reach out to America and have better relations,” says Padgett Wilson, director of governmental affairs at Greenberg Traurig.

Wilson notes that having a U.S. base in Eritrea would bring in much-needed capital and encourage U.S. companies to do business there, helping the country develop a middle class and “providing economic stability for U.S. companies.”

The lobbyist acknowledges some U.S. officials believe Eritrea hasn’t moved fast enough toward democracy. There was a widespread crackdown on government critics last year, with some dissidents held without charges and private newspapers shut.

“They have problems; they have a way to go,” Wilson says, but Eritrea is working on it, and a closer relationship with the United States would help.

“Based on the current sentiment of the Arab community and the geography of the region, it is increasingly clear that failure to form an alliance with Eritrea is unconscionable,” the issue paper states.

Taking Foreign Policy to Stonebridge

Joy E. Drucker has left the Council on Foreign Relations, where she was deputy director of the Washington office, for Stonebridge International, the international strategy company started by former Clinton national security adviser Samuel R. “Sandy” Berger. In her new job as director of government and international affairs at Stonebridge, Drucker will be lobbying and handling foreign policy matters and communications on behalf of clients.

US Ambassador: Eritrea Arrested 48 of Our Staff
Source: The World News

Between 2001 and 2010, Eritrea arrested 48 Eritrean employees of the US embassy in Eritrea, according to former US ambassador to Eritrea,Ronald McMullen.

In an interview with Global Journalist on August 6,  Ambassador McMullen, who appeared on the show with representatives of Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),  disclosed “Forty eight of our Eritrean employees have been arrested from 2001 to 2010. Some have been arrested for many years; others were arrested for several weeks or months and kept in horrible conditions.”

Mr. Ronald McMullen served as ambassador from 2007-2010.

The ambassador went on to shed light on why the United States and Eritrea no longer have relationship at the ambassador level:

“It is very tough,” he explained, “Everyday was a challenge and we looked for small victories and in keeping the embassy open, and maintaining a platform for American values talking about human rights and democratization, and trying to promote regional stability in a very volatile part of the world.”

The ambassador said that his office had to give a 10-day notice to Eritrean officials to get a permit to leave the capital city, Asmara, and that of his 65 requests, only 14 were approved.

While using glowing terms to describe Asmara and the people of Eritrea, Ambassador McMullen said that the country “is very, very, repressed and the government of President Isaias [Afwerki] is highly centralized and very authoritarian and attempts to control all aspects of life.”

In Eritrea, diplomats are also prevented from having access to the local population. Ambassador McMullen explained, “For example, at one point, we were having a public lecture series in an auditorium; the Ministry of Communication prohibited us from having one evening’s lecture, actually physically locked.. chained the gates shut on the auditorium.”

Asked by the host, what the lecture was about, Ambassador McMullen said  “it was about anthropology, and how Eritrea had been the bridge for early homo sapiens to go from Africa across the Red Sea…”

The government of Isaias Afwerki tried  “to get the names of all the 150 Eritreans who were attending this lecture. They roughed up one of my junior officers, an American foreign services officer. In the end, we moved this lecture into the patio of the embassy and continued. But the Ministry of Communications didn’t want 150 Eritreans to listen to this lecture.”

“… we had a lot of Eritreans who were willing to talk with us, ministers of the government came to my house for dinner; we had regular discussions with the president’s political and economic advisers. We had relatively good access, but bad relations. I mean they closed down the defense attaché’s office; the peace corps has been closed, USAid kicked out, they seized diplomatic pouches in contravention of the Vienna convention. So it is really a tough place to be an American diplomat.”

In June 26, 2001, Gedab News contacted the Public Relations Officer at the American Embassy in Asmara, Ms. Colette Christian, who dismissed the reports saying, “there has been no problem between USAid and the government since 1996.”

In 2001, the Eritrean Government detained two employees of the American embassy. Relations between the Eritrean government and the USA has been bumpy since the government of Isaias Afwerki arrested Mr Ali Alamin and Mr Kiflom Gebremichael. The two have not been officially charged with any crimes but they were rumored to have translated for the embassy the documents of Eritrean opposition groups.

In the same year, the government arrested Mr Fitwi Gezae, who was the webmaster of the US embassy in Eritrea and Mr Biniam Girmay, who was its Facility Management Assistant, were detained by Eritrean security officials.

Amassador McMullen is now a visiting professor at the University of Iowa.

Each year, the US Department of State provides country reports and while its annual reports on Eritrea have always been negative, the ambassador is the first official to disclose that as many as forty eight Eritrean employees of the US embassy have been arrested and the case of only two embassy employees, Ali Alamin and Kiflom Gebremichael, had always been presented as an obstacle to normalizing relationship between the two countries.

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