The US’ Horn of Africa tour completed

Feltman's visit was to establish a diplomatic initiative and coordination of US policies towards the region with regards to the Sudan-Ethiopia border dispute, the Tigray conflict and the GERD negotiations.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the regional special envoy, Ambassador Jeffrey Feltman, visited Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan between 3 and 13 May in order to find solutions to the recently escalating crises in the Horn of Africa. Feltman’s aim with this visit was to establish a diplomatic initiative and coordination of US policies towards the region to create a sustainable solution to the interconnected Sudan-Ethiopia border dispute, the Tigray conflict and the filling and operation of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). In this context, it is stated that representatives of the United Nations and the African Union discussed in addition to US government officials in the countries visited.

The US approach to Tigray is that the Eritrean soldiers withdraw from this region and that Ethiopia should find a solution to the humanitarian crisis that emerged by ending this conflict. In this respect, it refers to the humanitarian crisis reports prepared by international human rights organizations in the region and makes efforts to find a solution to this crisis in the United Nations Security Council. In this context, Feltman, who was newly appointed to the post last month, shuttled between Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Sudan on a nine-day Horn of Africa tour.

A remarkable development at this point is that, right after the USA announced its Horn of Africa tour, Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki paid an official visit to Sudan for two days. The most striking aspect of this visit is the emphasis that Eritrea is not a party to the al-Fashaga border issue between Sudan and Ethiopia. As it is known, Eritrean military forces also provide support in the conflict that Ethiopia wages against the Liberation Front in the Tigray region.

Jeffrey Feltman, the US Special Representative to the Horn of Africa, started this week’s visits from Egypt and continued with Sudan, Eritrea, and Ethiopia, respectively. During Feltman’s visit to Egypt, President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi met with the foreign affairs and irrigation ministers. Feltman stressed that the new US president is firmly committed to resolving the GERD problem and is concerned that the crisis could turn into conflict. Sisi, on the other hand, pointed out that any move by Ethiopia would adversely affect the water flow in the Nile which would not be tolerated, and called on the United States to play an “effective role” in the resolution of the issue.

During Feltman’s visit to Sudan, the same concerns and demands of his visit to Egypt were reiterated in the meetings with the Chairman of the Military Council, Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, and the ministers of foreign affairs and irrigation. In addition, just prior to Feltman’s visit to Sudan, US senators Christopher Coons and Chris Van Hollen visited the country and, in the statement made after the official meetings, it was emphasized that political and financial support was given to Sudan’s transitional government as well as GERD and the al-Fashaga crises. Gibril İbrahim, Minister of Economy, drew attention to the importance of the timing of this visit as it took place before the “Paris Conference” on “Investing in Sudan”.

Another visit of Feltman was to Eritrea. The agenda items of Feltman’s visit were the Tigray conflict in Ethiopia and the ongoing al-Fashaga border problem between Sudan and Ethiopia. The withdrawal of Eritrean soldiers from the Tigray region and resolution of human rights problems were the main agenda item of the Afwerki and Feltman meeting, which lasted about four hours. At the end of the meeting, Afwerki emphasized that Eritrea wanted to work closely with the US in order to solve the crises in the Horn of Africa.

Lastly, during the visit to Ethiopia, Feltman emphasized that they desire a united Ethiopia and that they are concerned about the increasing political and social polarization across the country. In addition, it was stressed that a result-oriented agreement in the GERD issue can arise by considering the development needs of Ethiopia and the concerns of Egypt and Sudan. In this regard, it was stated by Feltman that the Statement of Principles signed by the parties in 2015 and the African Union Bureau’s July 2020 communiqué are an important basis for future negotiations, which recently broke down for a third time in March.

Based on this trip, the US reinstated its interests to mediate with regard to regional disputes under the Biden administration.

Kaan Devecioglu

Kaan Devecioglu is a North African Studies Researcher at ORSAM. He is currently pursuing a PhD at the Department of International Relations at Istanbul Medeniyet University. His articles and book chapters have been published in international peer-reviewed journals, and his analyses and opinions have been published in many international publications. Kaan Devecioğlu’s work focuses on Red Sea geopolitics, East Africa, and Nile River diplomacy.

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