The U.S. Secretary of State's assistant for African affairs told VOA's Tizita Belachew today "the door is open" to improving relations between the United States and Eritrea.
In his second month on the job, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson today discussed issues confronting several African countries including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Zimbabwe. Carson has previously accused the State of Eritrea of shipping arms and fighters to Somalia to support the insurgency of al-Shabab.
However, the assistant secretary revealed a surprising twist in his efforts to engage Eritrea. After Carson left his passport at the Eritrean embassy "for an extended period" it was returned without a visa. The following day, Eritrea's ambassador to the United States, Girmay Gebremariam, told VOA "I would give him a visa in 15 minutes."
In the interview on Wednesday at the State Department, Carson confirmed that "I met with the Eritrean ambassador and asked to meet with President Isaias Afewerki. If he will give me a visa, I will be there."
"If relations are not improved it will not be because we're not trying to act as a respected partner," Carson said.
Carson said the Obama administration seeks to normalize strained relations. "This administration seeks a better relationship with Eritrea," Carson said. The most recent difference is over Eritrea's support for the insurgency against the Transitional Government of Somalia.
President Afewerki told VOA's Tigrigna service in Asmara two weeks ago that he looks forward to meeting Carson, but Afewerki repeatedly denies flying weapons to al-Shabab in Somalia.
"There is a growing volume of real and circumstantial evidence of continuing relations between Asmara and al-Shabab," Carson said today. "We encourage Eritrea to cut off relations" with the insurgents, he said. "There should be no transit for foreign fighters through Eritrea."
"The door is open if they are transparent on Somalia."