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Ethiopian Envoy Can’t Meet Conditions; State Department Scraps Meeting

May 18, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A tentative U.S. effort to upgrade relations with Ethiopia suffered a setback Friday when an Ethiopian envoy failed to meet U.S. conditions concerning famine relief and Jewish emigration, officials said.

Kassa Kebede, a senior Ethiopian official, had been scheduled to meet with Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger but the State Department postponed the appointment when it became clear that the U.S. conditions would not be met.

U.S. officials, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said they did not believe the setback had dealt a fatal blow to efforts to establish better relations with Ethiopia.

In announcing the postponement Friday, State Department press officer Dave Denney said Kebede was returning home for further consultations.

″We remain prepared for serious dialogue on famine relief, open emigration and other issues with the Ethiopian government,″ he said.

The United States and Ethiopia’s leftist government have had virtually no high-level contact for more than a decade. Each has an embassy in the other’s capital but not an ambassador.

The officials said that Kebede’s visit held out the possibility that the United States would permit Ethiopia to send an ambassador to Washington.

Eagleburger would have received Kebede if he had pledged to work with United Nations officials on opening the Red Sea port of Massawa so that relief supplies could get through to famine-plagued areas, the officials said.

Massawa is in the hands of Eritrean rebel forces fighting the Ethiopian government, but insurgent leaders have said they would be willing to make it an open city for the purpose of relief aid.

Besides the humanitarian aid issue, the State Department had conditioned Kebede’s meeting with Eagleburger on assurances that Ethiopia would allow an estimated 3,000 Ethiopian Jews - known as Falashas - to emigrate to Israel.

For the administration to accept an Ethiopian ambassador in Washington, both conditions would have to be met, the officials said.

Kebede is a half brother of Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam and is described as a senior foreign policy official. He had met earlier with top officials of the Africa and human rights bureaus at the State Department.

On the food issue, State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher said U.N. Secretary General Perez de Cuellar has reported that Ethiopian authorities have said they are prepared to discuss use of additional relief routes.

″We’re encouraged by this news and we hope that discussions will begin as soon as possible and will include the issue of Massawa,″ he said.

On Thursday, the House Select Committee on Hunger said the lives of up to 5 million Ethiopians were at risk because of civil war in Ethiopia.

The committee urged President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev to make Ethiopia an urgent agenda item and to work jointly for a cease fire so that full-scale relief efforts could begin.

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