Nov 22 2014

Eritrea wants an Arab-only summit on Red Sea security

Eritrea deems the presence of foreign marines and bases as destabilizing to Red Sea and has been urging for a summit of coastal countries – spearheaded by Egypt and exclusive of Israel.Map - Red Sea coastal nations

The revelation came in a remark made by the Eritrean ambassador in Cairo speaking at a meeting with Egyptian academics, researchers and journalists in Cairo last week.

Eritrean Ambassador Fasil Gebrselassie Takle regretted that “the shrinking of Egyptian presence in Africa has led to the emergence of other powers such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia”.

Ambassador Fasil Gebrselassie Takle also advised Egyptians to “not to trust in the Ethiopian promises special regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam”, according to reports on Arabic news outlets of Egypt reviewed by HornAffairs.

Relationship with United States

Eritrea became a de facto state in 1991 after protracted arms struggle. It joined the community of nations after a UN observed referendum was held in 1993 with Ethiopia’s acquiescence.

Commenting on the process, the Ambassador claimed:

“Eritrea was liberated militarily from the Ethiopian occupation in the May 24, 1991, which angered the United States and the West, who see the independence of Eritrea as undesirable and wished for “a maximum autonomy granted” under Ethiopia. So the developments shocked the Americans who had worked to block the United Nations from overseeing the 1993 referendum. More than 99% of the vote was in favor of Eritrean independence, then the world began to recognize the State of Eritrea and to establish diplomatic relations with it.”

State Department’s records show that “United States recognized the Republic of Eritrea on April 27, 1993…on the same date Eritrea declared its independence. Eritrea previously had been under Ethiopian sovereignty”.

According to the Ambassador’s account, the relationship was soon strained by Eritrea’s alleged refusal to host US military bases nearby Asmara and on the shores of the Red Sea and also due to her objection to the 1993 US intervention in Somalia (a.k.a. Black Hawk Down).

As a result, he claimed, “the Americans paid Ethiopia to officially declare war on Eritrea on the pretext of border conflict”, referring to the 1998-2000 border war for which a Hague tribunal blamed Asmara.

The Ambassador later added that “Ethiopia entered the war for the sole reason that the late Prime Minister needed to have a port on the Red Sea for his home region which he intendeds to secede from Ethiopia at some future date“.

The Eritrean Ambassador continued playing fast and loose with the facts claiming that:

Ethiopia wants to impose itself as a regional power in the Horn of Africa through Western support. [ and the Americans are facilitating that by ordering] Ethiopian army move to Somalia despite the presence of international decision not to cross Somalian borders, thereby started the process of Somalia’s fragmentation in favor of Ethiopia. That is also the case with Sudan, which was divided”.

That narrative had been discredited by the US State Department cables – showing Washington’s opposition to Ethiopia’s intervention in the days preceding the 2006 military intervention – which were published by Wikileaks and extensively discussed on HornAffairs. [See: HornAffairs: Ethiopia’s Somalia intervention 2006]

Read Sea’s security

The Asmara regime, which is under United Nations sanctions and monitoring since 2010 for its destabilizing role in the region, feigns concern for the entire Red Sea region – from Elat and Suez to Bab el Mandeb, as the remarks of the Ambassador demonstrated.

In line with the conspiratorial world-view of Asmara, the Ambassador sees the anti-piracy objective of foreign marines off the shores of Somalia and Djibouti as a “pretext” and characterizing the situation as “a challenge”; saying that:

“the Red Sea is currently facing a challenge after the continued presence of ships and military subsidiaries of foreign powers under the pretext of the fight against piracy affects the security of the region outspreading to the Strait of Bab el Mandeb and will reach up to Egypt, specifically the new Suez Canal project.”

The Ambassador revealed that Eritrean President – who visited Cairo 22 times in the past 23 years – has been urging for an Egyptian-led initiative to “stabilize” the Red Sea. He said:

“Eritrea believes that if we cannot keep the peace in the Red Sea, the Eritrean ports will be meaningless and the new Suez Canal project will not have success. Therefore, President Isaias Afewerki proposed a meeting of the countries of the Red Sea, to maintain the security of the Red Sea with Egypt’s strength and Saudi Arabia location.

But the proposal has not been implemented to date, despite the approval of Egypt. The initiative is still present on the table and we need it now to confront the threats that surround the Red sea”.

“Israel punished us”

Regarding Israel, which is located on the north-eastern side of the Red Sea, the Ambassador said:

“I know that Arab states do not recognize the existence of Israel, so it is possible for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea, Yemen, Jordan, Djibouti and Sudan to sit and agree on a mechanism to maintain peace and security in the Red Sea without inviting foreign forces.”

Speaking on the relationship between Asmara and Tel-Aviv, the Ambassador claimed:

“After the liberation of Eritrea has decided to establish relations with all countries. At the time Israel said it will recognize Eritrea and wanted to exchange diplomatic and we agreed on that exchanged and opened Embassies but there is more than that. Our relations, was only diplomacy, not for the presence of any Israeli military bases or camp in Eritrea. Just because we didn’t agree to establish such procedures, we have lived these difficult moments and penalties have been imposed on us”.

However, reports indicate the presence multiple of American and Israeli bases as early as 2001 and Asmara had not denied the claims for more than a decade. That was besides Asmara’s decision to offer air and maritime space for  the 2003 Iraqi invasion and recent reports of Israeli bases on Eritrean soil.

Ethiopia and Africa

The Ambassador recounted the Eritrean Egypt relationship to the time when Cairo aided separatist groups in a bid to weaken Ethiopia.

The Ambassador mentioned that Cairo had permitted an association of Eritrean students to open office which “served as Embassy issuing official documents recognized by the Egyptian government in 1952 ” and had also hosted the first office of Eritrean rebels in 1961.

Though the Ambassador claimed that “Eritrea’s relations with Cairo” is not directed to any other country and we also do not take advantage of the tension between Egypt-Ethiopia relations. We are interested in the existence of good relations between Cairo and Addis Ababa”, he quickly resorted to bashing Ethiopia and the African union.

He warned “Egypt should not trust Ethiopian promises especially concerning the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam project” citing Eritrea’s “suffering” under Ethiopia in the decades prior to her cessation.

It is to be recalled that the previous Eritrean Ambassador in Cairo claimed in 2011 that the dam project was meant to “to pressure and blackmail Egypt” .

Remarking on Egypt’s’ relations with Africa, the Ambassador expressed sadness over the absence of Egypt from Africa and saying that “Egypt was a pioneer in the formation of the African Union. But it has abandoned its role of providing support and assistance to the continent”.

The Eritrean ambassador said that the weakness of the Egyptian presence in Africa has led to the emergence of other powers such as Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Ethiopia.

He stressed his sadness that the to freeze the membership of Egypt after June 30. He described African Union’s decision to freez Egypt’s membership after the ouster of former President Morsi as as a “tragedy”, adding that “but now the AU declined from freezing Burkina Faso’s membership in the Union. That is the opposite of what they did with Egypt, which increased our grief because the position of Egypt in the continent has been affected”.