Biden Eyes Former Top U.N. Official for special envoy for the Horn of Africa

Washington wants a seasoned point person for the brewing crises in East Africa

Source: Foreign Affairs

Jeffrey Feltman speaks at the United Nations.

Jeffrey Feltman, then the United Nations undersecretary-general for political affairs, speaks at the United Nations in New York on Feb. 28, 2014. ANDREW BURTON/GETTY IMAGES

Jeffrey Feltman, the former top political advisor to the U.N. secretary-general, has been offered the newly created post, according to several people familiar with the matter, though they cautioned that the appointment hasn’t been finalized.

If appointed, Feltman would become U.S. President Joe Biden’s top diplomatic troubleshooter for a region wracked by conflict and violence in the wake of a brewing civil war in Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s military campaign in the country’s northern Tigray region has been marked by widespread reports of atrocities and massacres along ethnic lines, and it threatens to escalate beyond Ethiopia’s borders and spiral into a full-scale regional crisis.

The crisis marks a key early foreign-policy test for the new Biden administration, which has ramped up pressure on the Ethiopian government to end the conflict in Tigray and extended a pause in U.S. funding for most security assistance programs to the East African country.

Biden dispatched a close ally on Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, to Ethiopia over the weekend to convey U.S. concerns about the crisis to senior Ethiopian and African Union leaders.

Ethiopia has rejected U.S. allegations of ethnically motivated massacres in Tigray, which followed the federal government’s military campaign launched in November 2020 to oust the former regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Human rights group Amnesty International released an investigation last month that concluded troops from neighboring Eritrea were responsible for the massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians in Tigray after the conflict started, findings that sparked widespread international condemnation. Both Eritrea and Ethiopia have denied that Eritrean troops are fighting in Tigray despite widespread eyewitness accounts undermining their claims.

The Ethiopian government called the meetings with Coons “constructive,” though senior Ethiopian officials have sought to downplay U.S. criticism of the conflict, portraying it as confusion on Washington’s part. Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen briefed Coons “on the real situation in Tigray so as to shed light on the confusions that the US Government previously had about the military operation in the region,” according to Ethiopian government media—though it did not elaborate on what that confusion was.

The Biden administration and Coons have yet to issue statements on the senator’s meetings in Addis Ababa.

Along with Ethiopia, the new envoy could be tasked with crafting U.S. policies on other crises in the region, including terrorism threats in Somalia, Sudan’s tenuous transition to democracy, and a humanitarian crisis and conflict in South Sudan.

A State Department spokesman declined to comment directly on the Horn of Africa special envoy appointment but said Africa is a “priority” for the Biden administration. “Our consistent senior-level engagement—including on security, global health, climate change, freedom and democracy, and shared prosperity—demonstrates our commitment, and that certainly applies to the Horn of Africa,” the spokesman said.

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