Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew at a Press Availability

Secretary of State Michael R.Pompeo and Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew at Press Availability
Sheraton Hotel 
February 18, 2020
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

 MODERATOR:  Good afternoon.  Welcome to the joint press briefing of His Excellency Ato Gedu Andargachew, Foreign Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and His Excellency U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo.  The press briefing will go as follows:  First, the two principals will give a brief statement – first His Excellency Ato Gedu Andargachew, and next His Excellency Michael Pompeo.  Following their statements, we’ll take two questions from the members of the media.

For the first question we have here Ms. Morgan Ortagus, spokeswoman – spokesperson of the State Department.  She will call out for the visiting media.  The next question I’ll give the opportunity to the resident media.  Thank you.

Your Excellency.

FOREIGN MINISTER GEDU:  Welcome again, Your Excellency Michael Pompeo, Secretary of State of the United States of America.  It is a great pleasure for us to be here with you.  Welcome, Excellency.


FOREIGN MINISTER GEDU:  Ethiopia and United States enjoy more than a century diplomatic relation.  United States remains one of the strongest allies of Ethiopia.  Both countries enjoy a strong political, economic, and security cooperation.

Ethiopia attach great importance to its cooperation with the United States as undergoes a broad reform program.  Exchanges of visits like tonight between dignitaries of the two friendly countries have always helped to further vet the strong relations between our two countries.  Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit focused on strengthen that ongoing political and economic bilateral relations of the two countries.  This gives us the opportunity to discuss regional, continental, and global issues which is mutual concern.

The Secretary of State have discussed with President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Her Excellency Sahle-Work Zewde and the Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia His Excellency Dr. Abiy Ahmed on a range of bilateral and multilateral issues.  The discussions were both cordial and (inaudible) understand.

In my discussion with His Excellency Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, we have agreed to work closely not only at bilateral level, but also in multilateral issues of mutual concern.  The United States has reaffirmed its continued support to the ongoing Ethiopian political and economic reforms, promotion of peace and security, promotion of trade and investment, economic development cooperation, and some of the areas that we both came to an understanding to further deepen our bond.

I would like to underscore here that there is a strong political will that exists on both sides to strengthen the Ethiopia-U.S. relations for the mutual shared benefits of the people of the two countries.  I thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Thank you, Foreign Minister Gedu.  It’s a pleasure to be with you here today.  My wife Susan and my entire team are thrilled to be in this very special place.  It’s a remarkable country; it’s ancient, and we got a chance to finally taste that great coffee right here.  (Laughter.)

Today, Foreign Minister Gedu and I discussed the warm feelings, common values, and mutual respect that our countries have for one another.  We talked about our strong partnership, our histories together, and how we will both take it forward for the benefit for both of our peoples.

Ethiopia is America’s long and warm relationship with the country.  It’s our second-oldest diplomatic relationship in Africa.  In the 1930s and ’40s, the United States staunchly backed Ethiopian sovereignty when it was under threat.  We were one of the few countries to do so then.  Today, Washington, D.C. is home to the largest Ethiopian diaspora community outside of Africa, and we love them.

Our relationship provides a strong foundation for our cooperation on matters of security.  The Horn of Africa is a pretty dangerous neighborhood.  We recommitted this afternoon to our shared fight against al-Shabaab and other Islamist terror.

I also want to commend the Ethiopian people on their bravery and thank them for their sacrifices as members of UN and African Union peacekeeping missions in Somalia and elsewhere.  The AU’s increasing security work makes it a more effective multilateral organization.  Peace in Africa will be won by Africans.  I discussed that effort today with the AUC Chairperson Faki.

Investments in security provide the stability that allow Ethiopian citizens and citizens of other nations to flourish.  At the same time, Prime Minister Abiy’s reforms are driving growth and encouraging American business to expand right here in Ethiopia.  Ethiopia’s business-friendly climate has made it a welcome place for American companies like Coca-Cola and PVH, the makers of iconic brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger – they’re all expanding here.  Today, more American businesses are looking to get in, and investors are interested in everything.

America’s value as a partner goes beyond the quality of what we make.  Partnership defines our very engagement.  We invest in people and prioritize global health and economic empowerment.  Our investments uphold transparency and sovereignty.  Our companies, too, employ local people, Ethiopians.  Our track record of being a force for good when we invest economically is unchallenged.

Today, too, I am pleased to announce the United States is providing $8 million in additional funding to support regional locust control operations in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

Look, we’re also a force for good economically in Ethiopia through President Trump’s W-GDP Initiative.  I’m eager to meet some very creative and hardworking business leaders tomorrow morning.  Their embrace of free enterprise points the way forward for Africa’s economic success.

Of course, too, prosperity depends on strong institutions and the rule of law.  The Abiy administration believes in accountable, inclusive democracy.  So does America.  We talked about the upcoming Ethiopian election as well, a free and credible vote.  We’ll show there is no false choice between democracy and security, and that we’ll ensure that everyone has a voice.  Democracy is especially important in places as diverse as Ethiopia.

On the issue of religious freedom, something very close to my heart, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all have ancient histories here.  Joining the meeting, we had a religious council earlier today, and emphasizing the importance of religious freedom was a profound experience that I will not forget.

Thank you again, Foreign Minister, for hosting me here today.  I look forward to many more years of friendship with one of America’s oldest, staunchest partners right here in Africa.  Thank you, Mr. Minister.

MS ORTAGUS:  We’ll start with Cindy Spang from Voice of America.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Mr. Foreign Minister, you are two years into a very ambitious reform agenda here.  What are you proudest of and what is the area where you think that there is the biggest challenge for your citizens?  And Mr. Secretary, I would also like your perspective on that.

And on the coronavirus, is the U.S. going to push for a change in guidelines for quarantines for cruise ships?  And are you satisfied with the way that the Chinese Government is giving information to its own citizens?

And on Iran, can you confirm that a group of Democratic senators met with the Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference?  And if so, are you concerned about the meeting?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No, you go ahead.

FOREIGN MINISTER GEDU:  Let’s start with you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No, no.  You go ahead.  (Laughter.)  You answer on the reforms, and then I’ll take it.  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)  Okay, go.  No, go ahead.  You go ahead.  After you.  No, host first.

FOREIGN MINISTER GEDU:  Thank you so much.  (Inaudible) the most important agendas are political, economic, and security issues.  Ethiopia is one of the largest population country in Africa.  Our reform agenda is main focus forward to transform Ethiopia to democracy.  Then we have no experience for democracy.  So the challenge now we’re facing is the exercise of democracy, because this government opened political space.  Now in Ethiopia, all concerned voters, all political actors, the media people – all are free.  All parties previously they were brought (inaudible) coming and they’re playing the role.

In this situation, there is a fraction that challenges our rule of law.  That is one area of challenge.  Another important reform agenda is on economy.  Ethiopian economy is growing faster in the last 15 years, continuously, nearly double-digit growth.  However, there is a problem (inaudible) to the economy.  Number one, unemployment is huge in Ethiopia.  About 60 to 70 percent of Ethiopian population is youth.  And every – Ethiopia has 100,000 or so graduates from universities and high schools.  To avail your opportunity for those – these youths is difficult, one of the challenge for our reform agenda.

The other important challenges relate to security that is come from the democratization process as well as the unemployment problem.  Because most of our youths has – have no job, so there is demand for job, the supply side is limited.  This situation there is the situation to maintain peace and order in this country while struggling.  Now, it is improved from time to time.  There is promising improvement, but still it is the main challenge.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So you asked me to follow up on that same question.  I think the most impressive thing about these reforms is that they’re owned by the Ethiopian people.  These aren’t reforms that were imposed from someone from the outside.  These were reforms that came from Ethiopians demanding that their government fix these things, and they’re working diligently on them.  These are remarkable changes.  These will be transformative for Ethiopia.  They do, in fact, take time and results are never immediate when these kinds of big changes take place.  But the great thing is they’re being powered by the Ethiopian people.

I met with the female head of state in the capital of Africa today, this incredibly diverse place.  They understand the power that women will bring to the success of these reforms.  I met with religious leaders.  This is a diverse nation that’s putting in place reforms that will redound to the benefit of the Ethiopian people for an awfully long time.  Our role in this isn’t to impose it, but rather, to do everything we can to support it, to enable it, to provide technical assistance where we can, and to provide moral encouragement, because we know that these reforms are important, and if they are successful, will fundamentally transform the lives of Ethiopians for decades and decades to come.

You then asked a question, a couple parts, about coronavirus.  Look, we’re always trying to make sure we get decisions right.  With respect to these cruise ships, there are complicated decision-making processes.  So I don’t know that we’re going to look to change our guidelines necessarily, but we will evaluate these closely.  I’ve been tracking this and monitoring it even during my travels to make sure that we try to get it right every time, to not only protect the American people but to do all that we can as a country to help everyone in the world.

I was with our CDC folks in our embassy today.  The work that we’re doing right here in Africa is important.  I heard just as I came in that there are now more reported cases here in Africa.  We need to make sure that we’ve got that right and we’re doing everything we can to make sure that every place there’s risk – in countries where there isn’t a deep, strong healthcare or public health infrastructure – the United States is providing important assistance.  We’ve got plans to put in place at least $100 million worth of support to countries all around the world, including to China.  We’re proud of that.

We hope that the world will unite against what is this really challenging public health problem that faces us.  We hope that every country that has information – this includes China – will be completely open and transparent.  It took us too long to get the medical experts into country.  We wish that could have happened more quickly.  But we are hopeful that the Chinese Government will increase its transparency, will continue to share this information.  This is now a problem that is of global scale, and it’s important that every nation state act in a way that is consistent with reducing risk to citizens all across the world.

Your final question was about the reporting – I’d seen that piece about some senators meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif.  This guy’s designated by the United States of America.  He’s the foreign minister for a country that shot down a commercial airliner and has yet to turn over the black boxes.  This is the foreign minister of a country that killed an American on December 27th, and is the foreign minister for a country that is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror and the world’s largest sponsor of anti-Semitism.  If they met, I don’t know what they said.  I hope they were reinforcing America’s foreign policy, not their own.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  The second question goes to Asmamaw, EBC.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Secretary Mike Pompeo, and Mr. Gedu, the foreign minister of Ethiopia.  I’m Asmamaw from Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation.  My first question is – goes to Secretary Mike Pompeo.  It’s known that Ethiopia, Egypt, and Sudan has been negotiating on Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam with support of American Government and the World Bank.  How will this hurt us?  (Inaudible) including you, the Americans, stands to develop Egypt and putting pressure on Sudan and Ethiopia.  Due to this, Ethiopian peoples are becoming, at least at this particular event, distressed of the American stand.  What do you say for the people, Secretary Mike Pompeo?

The second question is the current election and the joint engagement of Ethiopia and the United States on the peace and security issue with Ethiopians.  (Inaudible) start to be strong according to the reports.  So the elections, they are still believed to be (inaudible).  So how (inaudible)?  And has – the progress in the next time?  For Mr. Gedu, could you tell us about that this is a point of discussion with Secretary Mike Pompeo regarding Egypt and Great Renaissance Dam?  Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So let me take the question about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.  President Trump made a priority to try and work with each of the three significantly impacted countries to try and get a good outcome for all three countries, to effectively mediate.  And so we’ve been working on this.  It’s been led by Secretary Mnuchin and by David Malpass at the World Bank.  Foreign ministers met in Washington a couple times, working on the problem set.  Many of the elements of an agreement are now moving closer to finality, but there’s still work that remains.

Our objective, the United States objective, and I think the objective of Ethiopia’s leadership, Egypt’s leadership, and the Sudanese leadership is to come to an accommodation that works for each of the three countries, to the peoples of each of those three nations, fairly.  I think there’s a solution to that that will work, but our mission set is not to impose a solution on this, but rather to get the three countries to come together around a solution that each of them acknowledges works for the concerns of all three nations.  We have been heartened in the context of those conversations to watch each of those countries recognize the needs and concerns of the other two countries.  It’s been a very professional discussion.  A great deal of work remains, but I am optimistic that over the coming months we can resolve this.

And I’m sorry, I didn’t pick up your second question, sir.

QUESTION:  It’s about the cooperation of the three countries regarding peace and security with (inaudible).

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, so as for peace and security around the Horn of Africa, the United States has played a significant role for quite a few years.  When I was the CIA director, I was – I traveled to that region on more than one occasion to make sure that we were sharing information in a way that was delivering security for all of the countries in the region – Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, everyone who had risk associated with that.  We’re going to continue that mission.

You may be referring to the review that we’re doing in terms of how our forces will be positioned.  That review is underway.  We’re going to continue to take a look at it.  We’re – we’ll make sure that we get it right.  If we’ve got forces in the wrong place or we have the wrong forces, we’re going to fix that.  We’ll do it in conjunction with our friends and partners in the region.  I’m confident that we can get the right force posture, the right risk for the United States, and still deliver on peace and security in a way that is important for the region, not only in the Horn of Africa but all across the Sahel and the rest of Africa as well.

FOREIGN MINISTER GEDU:  Regarding the issue of Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, (inaudible).  I would like to express Ethiopia’s appreciation to United States and the World Bank for positive role playing in the negotiations, as – we have negotiate – we have been negotiating with Egypt and Sudan.  So far, we have made progress on many issues, but there are still remaining outstanding issues that needs negotiation.  And Ethiopia hopes to reach agreement.  That’s the goal in the negotiation.

That negotiation based upon the principles and the national interest of Ethiopia, and we have only – the choice is to reach agreement based on win-win solution.  Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt are friendly country.  We have the same outcome.  The solution to reach agreement is everyone should understand the interests of other so that the agreement will be win-win.  So we are continue the negotiation in this spirit.  Hopefully, we’ll reach agreement.  We discuss with His Excellency on this issue, and he explained well.  Thank you so much.


MODERATOR:  Thank you, excellencies.  This brings us to the end of our briefing program.  Thank you all.