Princeton Lyman: Previous attempts to ‘bring Eritrea in from the cold’ have proved difficult, but we should still try

LymanPrinceton Lyman is a diplomat and former United States Ambassador to Nigeria and South Africa. The below is a response to Hank Cohen’s blog for African Arguments ‘Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold’

See also Amb. David Shinn’s piece: ‘Time to Bring Eritrea in from the Cold (But It’s Harder than It Sounds)’

Ambassador Cohen is right that ending the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea is long overdue and would be of great benefit to both countries and the region. The same is true for better relations between Eritrea and the US. But Ambassador Cohen does not mention that the African Union was instrumental in calling for United Nations Security Council sanctions against Eritrea. Not a few Africa countries have been upset by perceived Eritrean actions either in Somalia or elsewhere in pursuing its conflict with Ethiopia. Eritrea has become somewhat of an outlier. And rapprochement has proved difficult.

In 2008, when I was at the Council on Foreign Relations I made a major effort to bring Eritrea and the US together. After months of discussion on how to do this, I suggested to the Eritrean ambassador the Council sponsor a meeting between Eritrean officials and a distinguished group of Americans no longer in government, but with strong backgrounds in the region, to discuss the whole range of issues between our two countries. The idea was that if the meeting were to go well, someone from the administration would join opening the way to more formal government-to-government meetings.

The Eritrean ambassador assured me his government had approved this proposal. I persuaded the outgoing Bush administration to hold off on a designation of Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism to give this meeting a chance. Though skeptical, the administration agreed. The list of Americans I had contacted and who had agreed to sit down with such a delegation for two days was impressive, including many former diplomats who had served in the region and others active in humanitarian program in Eritrea. What was still missing was the list of Eritrean participants. Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, the Eritrean ambassador traveled home, promising me a list of Eritrean delegates when he returned. I did not hear back from him for months. When he finally contacted me, he told me that President Isaias had in fact killed the idea.

This is not to say that improvement in relations between the US and Eritrea does not remain desirable. Nor that any opening to settle the dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia should not be seized. But it does reflect the reality that the government of Eritrea does not make it easy for such rapprochement. After all this time, and with so much suspicion and accusations, these processes cannot be solved by meetings that have strict preconditions, as Eritrea has often insisted upon, nor without a readiness to address the several issues at stake not just one. Perhaps another try at second track diplomacy might help to start the dialogue. I encourage Ambassador Cohen to pursue that and other ways to advance these worthy goals.

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17 thoughts on “Princeton Lyman: Previous attempts to ‘bring Eritrea in from the cold’ have proved difficult, but we should still try

  1. First there is no ‘dispute’ between Eritrea and ethiopia, the matter has been resolved long time ago by the Eritrea ethiopia boundary commission. What we have is an occupation of Eritrean territory by ethiopia, this is not a ‘dispute’ its a matter of an illegal occupation. Let me ask you this Mr Lyman, if someone occupies your house which you legally own and refuses to live your own house,would that be called a ‘dispute’, between you & the criminal intruder? So please stop misleading people.

  2. 1. Why on earth you want to mix the legally settled border issue with any other relationship Eritrea and Ethiopia might have?

    2. Why should the US make the Eritrea/Ethiopia issue its own issue? Besides, that issue is legally settled, hence the noble stance the US should take is the side of justice and rule of law

    3. Ethiopia is not abiding by international law and is violating Eritrean sovereignty. Why on earth would you even consider punishing Eritrea, which is the one on the right side of justice?

    4. Stop twisting Eritrea’s hand into giving in to Ethiopia’s demands by holding the leggaly settled border issue as a hostage.

    5. By propping up and supporting Ethiopia when it is violating international law, you are actually tipping the balance, killing justice and truth, hence US is committing a crime against the Eritrean people, yet again! 1952 all over again

    6. US’s relationship with Eritrea should have a life of its own, with out any ties, whatsoever to the border issue or to Ethiopia. Eritrea, its people and its government are peace loving, hard working and decent, hence US should stop criminalizing them.

  3. It is strange that Princeton Lyman is claiming that he
    “persuaded the outgoing Bush administration to hold off on a designation of Eritrea as a state sponsor of terrorism”.

    In fact, Congressman Royce’s tabled an Amendment on Eritrea stating Eritrea’s support for terrorist organizations in Somalia and called on Congress to designate Eritrea a State Sponsor of Terrorism. Congressman Edward Royce’s bill on Eritrea was defeated in the House.

    I don’t understand why Princeton Lyman found it necessary to make a false claim?

  4. The US administration should know better in dealing with the Isaias regime. Unless US is willing to allow Isaias continue his dictatorial rule and ignore his erotic behavior there will never be an agreement. What Isaias might do is that give false promise to buy him time and to discourage the growing opposition. If the US is serious about peace in the region then it should start thinking about Eritrea free of Isaias and his regime.

  5. I noted the comments to this and the two related articles. In them emotions run high– anyone could easily identify which side the commenters are. This is an exemplar of the emotions/mentality among the population and the leaders in both countries.

    Well, it is inevitable, one day, the two countries, which have so much in common than any other country, normalize their relationship, rip the advantages from bilateral trade and the likes.

    But, that day is not near in my view. We simply need to wait for the older generation to die out from both sides. There is so much grudges towards each other. Like Ambss. Shinn indicated most Ethiopians feel they were disadvantage by the relationship (resent that they are socially considered inferior, and economically Eritrea has been leeching them). Eritreans, on the other hand, believe that they were treated as a second citizens when they were part of Ethiopia, and Ethiopians want to subjugate them and take advantage of their Sea access.

    Thanks to old white mens in Europe, the curse of colonialism and Africans problems never dry up. But, trust me the two countries start afresh, build a foundation on a new ground with new stones.
    Brethren let’s be far sighted!!!

  6. a very good point from the person who tried to forge peace between U.S. and Eritrea. but I feel that one point is missing in the discussions about negotiations and peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, i.e. the change of the geopolitical positions of the two countries. the gap has widened between Ethiopia and Eritrea ever since the conflict erupted. thus, Eritrea cannot impose its terms and preconditions on any dialogue to come because negotiation for Eritrea is not a matter of choice rather it is a necessity. either Eritrea should negotiate at any cost or continuing the already started journey to being a pariah/failed state.

  7. Princeton Lyman ,Mr. Ambassador, there is no so called border dispute between Eritrean and Ethiopia.This is just a coverup the PFDJ regime brought to run away from implementing the Eritrean Constitution. This regime don’t like peace as it can’t survive in time of peace, democracy, rule of law and elections.
    When we say Eritrea, it has to be the people but not the regime that is torturing and killing thousands of innocent people including children.The dictator is the main reason for the loss of hundreds of lives in the Mediterranean and Sinai. The suffering of the Eritrean people under the PFDJ is beyond anyone can think of.

  8. Ethiopians do not feel inferior….How can we feel inferior because we where not Colonized?…we are people who have a wonderful history…I think Eritreans should ask themselves “Is being Colonized by Italy something to be proud about?How is it that one can claim that they are better or superior because a foreign country came,demolished local identity and culture and put their own?Is that even a point to raise…

  9. @Haki.

    You are right Mr. Haki. If a criminal intruder occupies my house which I *Iegally own* and refuses to leave my house, I will beat up my kids and torture them and force them to leave the remaining rooms I am left with. I will also whine and cry about it for the rest of my life! I will expect my neighbors and friends to come and beg me for leniency to the way I treat my children.

    Neither the U.S nor Ethiopia is obliged to babysit Eritrea!!! if you can take the land, go for it. If you can’t, do not whine! Continue singing about your war of secession and go to sleep when you get tired!

  10. @observer Well if that is what you would do, then you sir have some serious mental issues, and would recommend you seek immediate psychiatric medical attention. I know it is in your desire for there to be another war between the two countries again, as you feel that ethiopia suffered a blowing defeat at the hands of the Eritreans both militarily & in the courts.So you are desperate for another war as you think ethiopia is ready for war and has the backing of the US and the perceived notion that Eritrea’s military is weakened, due to the arms embargo & illegal sanctions placed upon it. If that is the case then you seriously need to do your homework & not rely on fabricated intelligence & lies. As Eritrea’s strength is really deeply rooted into the fabric of the Patriotic Eritrean Society, anyway to cut thing’s short, as it seems like im talking to a psychotic individual. Eritrea will not be starting any war & it’s border is clearly defined it doesn’t need war, by actually abiding by the agreements that it has signed just shows the world how peace loving Eritreans are and how aggressive the criminal ethiopian government are. The US, UK, AU, EU & the algerian government are all guarantors of the peace agreement, why haven’t they done there part?Infact one of them the US placed sanction on the victim Eritrea, what would you think will happen if & when Eritrea forcefully kicks out ethiopia from it’s own land? Eritrea would be condemn for it, as crazy as that sounds. Anyway Eritreans will keep showing the world of the injustice being committed against them, and people are actually starting to see the situation for what it is, despite the intensive work on the part of the US, ethiopia & the media to hide the truth, things are changing for the better.

  11. @Haki.
    Exactly. And that *psychotic individual* is the Eritrean regime. You may continue to beat up your kids but it costs you a lot when you start to bite everyone in your neighborhood like a mad dog! You will end up whining the rest of your life!
    The entire Africa is aware of what Eritrean regime is! Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, Sudan and South Sudan are all aware of the intention of the Eritrean regime.
    @an African on superiority complex
    Eritrea is the only country in the world that takes pride in being colonized! If they feel *superior* for having a city built by Mussolini and being introduced to spaghetti, let them fantasize in their illusions!!!
    Ethiopia is the pride of Africa and all black and freedom-loving people around the world for having defended European fascism and keeping the beacon of hope of in defending African sovereignty. Ethiopia has stopped the complete Europeanization of Africa!!! In so doing, it has somehow managed to change the fate of Africa – compared to what happened to native Americans in North America!!! We are very very proud of our great fathers and very solidly footed to our African roots!!!

  12. @observer; On a serious note ,you really should take my advice on that psychiatric medical help you so desperately need. Eritrea has good relations with those countries you have mentioned with the exception of the foreign, US & French military base djibouti(you really can’t call it a country).Because your living in your psychotic trapped brain, you fail to see the reality, throughout the last few years Eritreas President has visited these countries & relationships are improving, matter of fact Sudans President is getting ready right now as i write this comment,for a 3 day visit to Eritrea from tomorrow. The days of the US & its puppet ethiopia lying about Eritrea to these countries is over, it seems they fully know what the situation is now and decided to ignore what the lying ethiopians have to say. And for ethiopia being the ‘pride’ of Africa is a joke, it’s more of the disgrace of Africa. ethiopia is the most aid addict nation in the world & with out it’s ethiopian government begging for more aid it wouldn’t survive for a few years.Apparently you ethiopians claim your 3000 years old, yet you are one of the most poorest in the world, im not surprised to see a psychotic person being ‘proud’ of that. And on the other hand you have Eritrea one of the youngest nation’s in the world, who refuses billions of dollars in aid, a country that has been devastated with war, a country that has been illegally sanctioned, but yet still survives, not only does it survive, but is also one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Tell me any other country in Africa that can do that?None, so infact it is Eritrea that is the Pride of Africa.

  13. 1) Well said, Mr. Lyman.

    2) As usual, Eritrean government supporters & apologists seem to be beating around the bush, instead of facing the real issues at hand.

    3) Matter-of-factly, the government in Eritrea is a belligerent regime, which has fought with all of its neighbors except Saudi Arabia (They did’t fight with the latter, because the costs are too high, for obvious reasons).

    4) Why would the AU condemn its own member state unless it was too obvious that the behavior of such a state had become exceedingly intolerable or abhorrent?

    5) Well said again, Mr Lyman.

  14. @Haki.
    Treat your own Psychotic leader who is beating up his own people and killing and locking up and torturing his own colleagues!

    You want Badime to be given to you so you can *gloat over* it and sing and dance about it for another 20 years – and broadcast your hateful propaganda across the boarder into Ethiopia to the very people who defeated you and kicked you out of the land??? It ain’t gonna happen! You lost the war – just continue singing your 30 year secessionist war and dwell on it for the rest of your life! You can whine and whine and whhhhhiiiiinnnne about badme and lick ferenji shoes in western capitals. You lost the war – period!

    *** laaaauuuuuuuuugggghhhhhhhhh*** at Eritrea being the pride of Africa! Eritrea is the trouble maker of Africa!

  15. @observer

    Psychotic people like you are well known for there erratic continues laughter with themselves, you’ve just proved my point.

    And it was ethiopia that lost the war, it suffered a humiliated defeat, it was Eritrea that kicked out the invading ethiopian army first, then sium mesfin went to the US crying for help, after defeat on numerous occasions during the first ethiopian offensives in 1998, after those first defeats,while deceitfully claiming to engage in the peace process ethiopia was getting ready at the same time to wage another massive offensive in 1999, while Eritrea was caught ofgaurd thinking ethiopia was serious in engaging in peace, anyway at a cost of tens of thousands of ethiopian lives & with the help of there master’s satellite imagery & russian generals, they managed to penetrate through the south west of Eritrea, the Eritrean forces simply withdrew there forces in order to preserve the human capital of it’s Army, compared to the 100 times more ethiopia had, as the Eritrean forces were also making great progress on the other fronts, later on the ethiopian army was kicked out of the west of Eritrea as, ethiopia was suffering a huge defeat in its 3rd massive offensive in 2000, trying to capture Asab, were tens of thousands of your fellow ethiopians perished once again, do you even know how bad that defeat was? Because prior to that 3rd offensive, Eritrea agreed for the sake of peace with the algerians to withdraw for more than 30 km from the border with ethiopia & Asab, so ethiopia disregarded the agreement an goodwill of Eritrea & went in deep into Eritrea to try & take Asab, where they completely failed. You know nothing of war, you will push & you will get pushed, that is normal in war, but the main thing is have you accomplished your goals, which in ethiopias case is no, you waged a war and accomplished absolutely nothing, you couldn’t get rid of the Eritrean government & people, you couldn’t take Asab, and finally Badme was & is & forever will be Eritreas. Unlike you ethiopians Eritrea abides by international law and thus far as complied with agreements it has signed, so if you warmongers are thinking about Eritrea starting a war, you need to forget it. Only if war is forced upon Eritrea, by ethiopia declaring it out & load and takes those steps, then i can tell you that would be the end & demise of the current ethiopian puppet regime.

  16. If Mr. Lyman intention is honest , then Mr.Lyman should know the alphabetical order.You don’t jump from letter A to letter Z, but A,B,C….. All this negotiation, coexisting, peace and so are all excuse from the Ethiopian side not to implement the court rule. First comes first, implement the international ruling boundary commission!! Ethiopia, should surrender Eritrean Territory. Then, every thing will come naturally, since we are neighbors and most importantly brothers. The majority people of Ethiopians want to see peace with our brothers Eritreans, but the minority Ethiopian leaders who are ruling the nation, ethinic Tigryans, who are border with Eritreans, who always felt inferiority toward Eritreans are the one blocking this nation not to exist peacefully. Return the stolen property to Eritrea first and then negotiate any thing!!!!!!

  17. Pingback: Eritrea: We Need to UN-Break the U.S.-Ethiopia-Eritrea Triangle | AfricaHot

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