US envoy says 'nascent progress' achieved in Ethiopia talks

Jeffrey Feltman says Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wants opposition forces to return to Tigray

Jeffrey Feltman, US envoy to the Horn of Africa, met Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to discuss peaceful negotiations with Tigrayan forces. Reuters

The US envoy to the Horn of Africa, Jeffrey Feltman, highlighted on Tuesday that there has been some movement in diplomatic talks to reach a cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia.

“There is some nascent progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiating process,” Mr Feltman said in a call with reporters.

He said, however, that this progress is fragile and at risk of being outpaced by the military developments on the ground.

“What I worry about is that the military developments on the ground are moving more rapidly than we've been able to get the diplomatic process to move.”

The US envoy said that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told him on Sunday that he wants forces from the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) to return to Tigray. Mr Feltman added that the US agrees with this demand as it is in line with the lifting of the humanitarian blockade on Tigray.

“What I mostly discussed was how his goals could be achieved through the negotiating table rather than militarily,” Mr Feltman said about his meeting with Mr Abiy.

“I was encouraged that [Mr Abiy] was willing to talk to me in detail about what a diplomatic process could look like.”

But he added that Mr Abiy had expressed confidence that he will be able to push back the Tigrayan forces militarily.

“I questioned that confidence,” Mr Feltman said. “I was trying to tell him what was the cost to Ethiopia's stability. The cost to the civilians, the dignity of Ethiopia has been damaged by this war. The costs are too high.”

He also warned the TPLF against pushing into the capital Addis Ababa.

“The TPLF would be met with unrelenting hostility if it entered Addis today,” he said.

Mr Feltman returned on Monday from Ethiopia, his second trip this month to try to reach a cessation of hostilities.

He described a growing appetite for negotiations this time despite the public rhetoric from Mr Abiy, who has pledged to join the battlefront, and increased threats from the TPLF as they continue advancing towards the capital.

“There is a sense of realism, that after a year of this horror, there might be other approaches to consider in order to achieve goals.”

The US envoy said steps including the withdrawal of the TPLF, allowing humanitarian aid into the northern regions and delisting the TPLF as a terrorist organisation by the Ethiopian Parliament could pave the way for de-escalation.

At the same time, Mr Feltman did not play down the risks of escalation. The US, France, Finland, Turkey and Jordan, fearing an all-out war, have urged their citizens to leave Ethiopia this month.

“I emphasise this may escalate further and can cause supply chain shortages, communications black outs, travel disruptions [in Ethiopia]," Mr Feltman said of the conflict.

“If commercial options become available, take the available seat on the commercial flights, now.”

Correction: A previous version of this story quoted Mr Feltman as saying there had been "massive progress in trying to get the parties to move from a military confrontation to a negotiating process". The State Department transcript of the call, however, showed that Mr Feltman had said "nascent progress".

Updated: November 23rd 2021, 7:20 PM