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Secretary Antony J. Blinken With Anne Soy Of BBC Africa

 NEWS PROVIDED BY

US Department of State
Nov 19, 2021, 05:35 PST

WASHINGTON, 19 November 2021 / PRN Africa / -- QUESTION: Okay, here we go. Thank you very much. You have been talking about the situation in Ethiopia. What's your prognosis of the situation there?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: The situation is very, very challenging because there's a real risk if this continues, if all sides continue to believe that there's a military answer to their problem, then we really risk seeing violence increase, suffering increase, and potentially the state of Ethiopia pulling apart. And so this is of deep concern not only to us, but to many countries in the region and around the world.

 

QUESTION: Are there any signs that a diplomatic solution could work, could come?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are working overtime in support of the efforts of the African Union's lead mediator, former Nigerian President Obasanjo, in very close contact with him, other leaders who are playing an important role in trying to bring the sides together to get a ceasefire, to get humanitarian assistance flowing, to get negotiations for a durable political solution, while including President Kenyatta right here in Kenya.

And I think there is still an opportunity to do that because it's more than an opportunity; it's a necessity. The alternative – Ethiopia actually imploding, all of that spilling over into neighboring countries – is something that people, I think, across the region see as an unacceptable outcome. So the diplomacy is vitally important, and I think there is hope that the military efforts can halt, the parties can sit down together, reach a ceasefire, make sure the humanitarian assistance is flowing, and as I said, negotiate the concerns that they have for a durable political solution.

 

QUESTION: Thank you very much. So on the question of AGOA, you have applied pressure, including denying access to the American market the Ethiopians. But isn't this punishing the wrong people? Because there are tens of thousands of workers who work so hard and have nothing to do with the conflict. They could be victims. But aren't you aiming at the wrong target?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, under the terms of AGOA itself, a country that is engaged in serious human rights violations can't benefit from AGOA. And so as a practical matter, if what's happening in Ethiopia continues, as we've said, by January 1st we will have to, under the terms of the law, take away the benefits that flow from AGOA to Ethiopia. Those benefits normally would continue until 2025.

And as to the people directly affected, of course we feel deeply for them, which is why, in the first instance, we're trying to make sure that the humanitarian assistance that they need and they're being deprived of in many parts of the country that are in conflict, that that gets through. And we're also standing up for their rights. Ultimately, this is about the leaders of the country on all sides coming together, finding a political answer to the differences that have emerged in Ethiopia over the last year, and frankly, they're responsible for their own people, including women and other workers and entrepreneurs who are suffering under the conflict.

 

QUESTION: Right. And the situation in Sudan is also concerning, and just yesterday, they had one of the bloodiest days since the coup.

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are the strategies on the ground right now working? Is it time to change strategy? And do you get the sense that the military generals are listening to the international community? Are they listening to you?

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, I think the generals have to listen not only to the international community but, first and foremost, to the people of Sudan who have made very clear with their voices – voices that have come out onto the streets – that they want a resumption of the civilian-led transition, something that was historic, something that was putting Sudan on a very positive path to democracy, to freedom, to greater prosperity. That process was disrupted, interrupted by the military takeover. And what's most important now, and there – and the military leadership is hearing this from its people and it's hearing it from the international community – is to put that civilian-led transition back on the track.

QUESTION: General al-Burhan has said that he remains committed at realizing democracy in the country. But reading everything that he's doing – he has appointed a new sovereign council without consulting the civilians – does that speak to that commitment? Are you concerned about the signs that they are sending?

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: There is a big gap between the stated commitment and the actual actions, the deeds. Prime Minister – the prime minister himself is, I think, a source of real legitimacy, and he needs to be restored to his position. And at the same time, releasing people from detention is vitally important; and critically, stopping the violence. The fact that again yesterday, so many people were killed simply for raising their voices in support of the democratic transition is totally, totally unacceptable.

So what I think the military leaders are hearing from – again, from their own people, but also from countries around the world and in the region is the imperative of putting the civilian-led transition back on track. If that happens, then the support that the international community has brought to Sudan will continue. Right now, there is about $4 billion in assistance that's been suspended, more than $20 billion in loan guarantees that's been suspended. Humanitarian assistance continues, but the resources needed to help carry Sudan forward are, understandably, suspended given the military takeover.

 

What we want to see is the civilian-led transition back on track, the community – the support from the international community then resuming, and this process, which is really historic, remarkable, and answers the strong desires of the Sudanese people, can move forward.

 

QUESTION: Let's turn to the U.S.-Africa policy. The previous administration said that their policy was to counter China on the continent. We didn't really see much of that. What's yours?

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Our Africa policy is about Africa, not about China. It's about the relationship between the United States and the 64 countries on the continent. And it's premised on this basic reality: Everything that we seek to do in the world to make progress for our own people cannot be done without Africa. When we're talking about climate change, Africa has to be part of the answer, part of the solution. When we're talking about dealing with pandemics like COVID-19, Africa has to be part of the solution, part of the partnership, and we're building partnerships on both of those fronts.

When it comes to building a more inclusive economy, building back from COVID-19, Africa is part – has to be part of the solution. With the youngest population in the world, with 1.3 billion people, median age of 19, it has to be part of the solution. When it comes to democracy and human rights, at a time when democracy is under challenge, Africa has to be a part of the solution.

And in all of these areas, what we're focused on is building those partnerships with Africa, with the United States. And the last thing I'll say on this is a lot of this, as I said, is grounded in young people, precisely because the population is so young.

 

QUESTION: And very quickly, more aid or more trade?

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, ultimately, trade, investment are the most powerful vehicles forward, and this is what we're working on. There are significant investment initiatives that our administration has brought forward, including, particularly, investments in green technology, in green infrastructure, in communications technology, in basic infrastructure. But we want to make this a race to the top. And again, it's not about any other country. It's about: How can we, together, build a better future for all of our people?

And so the kinds of investments that we want to make together with Africa, with the private sector, respecting environmental concerns, respecting the rights of workers, respecting intellectual property, making sure that when we build things, we build them to the highest possible standards – all of that is a central part of our focus. I'm going to have a chance to talk about it a little bit more in a couple of days because I'll speak to the relationship with Africa.

 

QUESTION: And I have to ask about one country we —

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Sure.

 

QUESTION: — one region we rarely talk about, Western Sahara. And we saw towards the end of the Trump administration that they recognized the sovereignty of Morocco on that disputed region. Is this something that you're going to reverse?

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We are very focused now on supporting the efforts of the UN envoy, Staffan de Mistura, and a UN-led process to find a durable and dignified solution. That's the focus of our efforts.

 

QUESTION: But are you going to reverse that decision?

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We're focused on the – on this UN process, helping to move it forward. We're talking to all of the parties involved. And right now, the focus should be on what the UN is doing, again, to find a durable and dignified solution.

 

QUESTION: The United States is the only country in the world that recognizes full sovereignty of Morocco on that region. Are you going to reverse that position —

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Again, our focus —

 

QUESTION: — and give a chance to the effort that you're talking about, a possible referendum? Are you going to reverse the position?

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: We've been very much engaged with all of the parties. And as I said, our focus right now, especially since we now have a UN envoy after a lot of time not having one, is to make sure that that process can move forward. That's where our focus is. That's where our support is going.

 

QUESTION: Secretary, thank you very much.

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Good to be with you.

(Break.)

 

QUESTION: Thank you very much. So on the question of AGOA, you have applied pressure, including denying access to the American market the Ethiopians. But isn't this punishing the wrong people? Because there are tens of thousands of workers who work so hard and have nothing to do with the conflict. They could be victims. But aren't you aiming at the wrong target?

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Well, first, under the terms of AGOA itself, a country that is engaged in serious human rights violations can't benefit from AGOA. And so as a practical matter, if what's happening in Ethiopia continues, as we've said, by January 1st we will have to, under the terms of the law, take away the benefits that flow from AGOA to Ethiopia. Those benefits normally would continue until 2025.

And as to the people directly affected, of course we feel deeply for them, which is why, in the first instance, we're trying to make sure that the humanitarian assistance that they need and they're being deprived of in many parts of the country that are in conflict, that that gets through. And we're also standing up for their rights. Ultimately, this is about the leaders of the country on all sides coming together, finding a political answer to the differences that have emerged in Ethiopia over the last year, and frankly, they're responsible for their own people, including women and other workers and entrepreneurs who are suffering under the conflict.

 

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much. That is clear. Thank you.

 

SECRETARY BLINKEN: Great. Thank you.

 

 

SOURCE US Department of State

 

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