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News: In first phone call with Abiy, Biden renews plea for negotiated ceasefire, humanitarian access; Abiy says discussion “candid”

Addis Abeba – In a phone call discussion with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, U.S. President Joe Biden “discussed ways to accelerate dialogue toward a negotiated ceasefire, the urgency of improving humanitarian access across Ethiopia, and the need to address the human rights concerns of all affected Ethiopians, including concerns about detentions of Ethiopians under the state of emergency.”

Prime Minister Abiy said the conservation on “current issues in Ethiopia was “candid”, and both agreed “there is great value strengthening our cooperation through constructive engagement founded on mutual respect.”

This is the first direct phone call between the two leaders. However, in May last year, President Biden made his first statement on Ethiopia’s crisis when he joined growing international calls for a ceasefire and immediate and unimpeded humanitarian access to Tigray in order to “prevent widespread famine.” He further said the “government of Ethiopia and other stakeholders across the political spectrum should commit to an inclusive dialogue. Working together, the people of Ethiopia can build a shared vision for the country’s political future and lay the foundation for sustainable and equitable economic growth and prosperity.”

In addition, President Biden “expressed concern that the ongoing hostilities, including recent air strikes, continue to cause civilian casualties and suffering, and he reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to work alongside the African Union and regional partners to help Ethiopians peacefully resolve the conflict.”

A statement by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee described the direct phone conversation as “long-overdue but welcome,” but said “what happens after today’s conversation is what matters.”

“Prime Minister Abiy should act urgently to cease hostilities, including airstrikes on civilian targets, end the humanitarian blockade, release the thousands who remain detained without charge, and advance political dialogue. Similarly, President Biden should continue intensifying U.S. diplomatic efforts toward peace while making good on the countless U.S. promises to hold all actors accountable for obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid and furthering this devastating war. The United States can and should use every tool possible to bring about peace in Ethiopia and prevent the continuation and expansion of this war’s horrors,” the statement reads.

The phone conversation between the two leaders comes in the backdrop of a deteriorating, all-time-low U.S.-Ethiopia diplomatic relations after the break out the current civil in Ethiopia in November 2020. The Biden administration has made repeated calls for cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of Eritrean and Amhara forces from Tigray, increased humanitarian access, end of human rights abuses and an inclusive political dialogue to resolve the crisis. After yearlong unsuccessful diplomatic pressure, this month the U.S. moved on implementing punitive action by removing Ethiopia from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a duty-free trade access to the U.S. by sub-Saharan African countries,“due to actions taken by [the government] in violation of the AGOA Statute. ”

The readouts both from Prime Minister Abiy’s office and the White House say the leaders agreed to strengthen relations between the two countries. “Both leaders affirmed the commitment to strengthen bilateral relations and to work collaboratively on matters of mutual concern,” PM Abiy’s office said. Similarly, the readout from the White House said: “both leaders underscored the importance of the U.S.-Ethiopia relationship, the potential to strengthen cooperation on a range of issues, and the need for concrete progress to resolve the conflict.” AS

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