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Ethiopia hopes Blinken's visit will help the peace process

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Ethiopia is hoping that today's visit by Secretary of State Antony Blinken will set the country on a more normal diplomatic path with the U.S. Relations have been strained by a devastating civil war in northern Ethiopia. Blinken wants to see more progress on the cease-fire, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: A Nobel Peace Prize winner whose image was shattered during the war in Tigray, Ethiopia's prime minister seems eager to turn a page with the U.S. Abiy Ahmed says he agreed with Blinken to strengthen relations. The secretary put it this way.

ANTONY BLINKEN: As I conveyed to Prime Minister Abiy, the United States, as Ethiopia's largest bilateral donor, providing over $3 billion in humanitarian assistance since 2020, we will continue to be there for Ethiopians.

KELEMEN: But he says before the U.S. will normalize relations and restore trade benefits to Ethiopia, he wants to see more progress toward peace in Tigray.

BLINKEN: By and large, the guns are silent. Humanitarian assistance is flowing. Services are being restored.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We've got a couple of bags of wheat...

BLINKEN: I did notice that, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...For Ukraine here. So...

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken got a look at some of the international aid operations visiting a U.N. warehouse and spotting some supplies from Ukraine. He announced another $331 million in aid. Blinken was there with Ethiopia's finance minister, Ahmed Shide, who points out that the economy has suffered because of drought and the war in Tigray, which scared off donors.

AHMED SHIDE: This already challenging environment has been exacerbated by the significant drop in external development assistance. With your visit, we fully believe that the development partnership will be fully unlocked.

KELEMEN: He tried to reassure the secretary that Ethiopia will ensure accountability and justice as it implements a peace with Tigrayan rebels. Human rights groups are calling for outside monitors. Sarah Yager of Human Rights Watch says atrocities are ongoing.

SARAH YAGER: We're really concerned that governments, including the United States, are going to, if not paper over, then downplay the atrocities that have happened in Ethiopia in order to try to get it back on some sort of stable footing.

KELEMEN: Ethiopia is a key regional player, but Yager is hoping that Secretary Blinken was more forceful behind closed doors in calling for accountability, especially in his meeting with Abiy.

YAGER: Prime Minister Abiy has a lot to answer for. And if the United States is not going to have him answer for those things, I'm not sure who will. But he's got a long way to go to live back up to that Nobel Peace Prize that he received.

KELEMEN: Secretary Blinken is the latest high-level Biden administration official to visit Africa. Vice President Kamala Harris goes next as the administration ramps up its engagement on the continent to counter China's growing influence.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.