|05ADDISABABA3619||2005-10-18 08:28:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Addis Ababa|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 003619
1. (C) SUMMARY: UNMEE Deputy Head Azouz Ennifar and his
political aide told the Charge that any new UN envoy on the
Ethiopia/Eritrea border issue should come to the parties with
concrete proposals for resolving the conflict and avoid media
attention during initial phases of his work. New economic and
commercial arrangements could make a deal more attractive.
The UNMEE officials also urged that any new envoy take
advantage of their Mission's expertise on the border area and
the political climate, and noted that former UN envoy Lloyd
Axworthy had not done so. Ennifar indicated that active
African Union (AU) involvement was not welcomed by either
party. Ennifar wondered whether both sides were hurting badly
enough to take difficult measures to break the stalemate; he
recalled that, prior to the recent extension of the UNMEE
mandate, UN officials in New York had considered cutting
UNMEE back severely in an effort to create incentives for the
two countries to move forward. The UNMEE deputy believed that
if there were political instability in Ethiopia, the risk of
a military attack from Eritrea would increase. He speculated
that Eritrea's strategy would be to quickly seize key areas,
including Badme, then count on rapid international
intervention to freeze the new status quo. PM Meles, for his
part, seems not to be worried saying "Isaias doesn't want to
die." He also does not see any drawn out political violence.
Chief of Staff General Samora told Charge and DAO separately
that the "tripwire" for an Eritrean military attack would be
the removal of UNMEE. Samora considered such an attack
unlikely, however, given that Eritrea (like Ethiopia) had a
good harvest; Eritrean sorties are in the field not on the
front lines, he said. End Summary.
2. (C) Charge and PE Counselor met Sept. 27 with Deputy
Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Azouz
Ennifar, who serves as the Deputy Head of the UN Mission in
Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE), and his senior political
advisor, Abdel-Kader Haireche, to seek their views concerning
the possible naming of a new UN envoy on the border conflict.
Ennifar took up his post in Addis in August, while Haireche
has worked with UNMEE for over four years.
Axworthy's Missteps: Too Much Talk, Too Little Listening
3. (C) When asked what a potential new border envoy could
learn from the experience of former UN Special Representative
Lloyd Axworthy, both officials pointed to the ill-conceived
interview that Axworthy gave during his first visit to Addis
Ababa. According to Haireche, Axworthy talked excessively in
the interview about "his ability to open doors and make
things happen." The former minister's bravado seemed to
alienate the Eritrean side in particular, as did Axworthy's
very public initial visit to Addis, rather than Asmara.
Perhaps as a result of this initial misstep, President Isaias
never agreed to receive Axworthy. The lessons for a future
envoy, both officials agreed, were to take a low public
profile initially and to go to Asmara first, where insecurity
and mistrust were greater. Ennifar recommended that any
envoy on the border issue move quietly, "like the Oslo
Mideast peace process," in order to avoid public pressure,
posturing and unrealistic expectations.
4. (C) Haireche also noted with some irony that Axworthy
began his mission on the border conflict without ever
consulting experts at the UNMEE mission. In so doing, he
ignored a wealth of military and political expertise that the
staff had accumulated over several years of detailed work on
the issue. UNMEE head Joseph Legwaila had been forced to
"chase Axworthy around" just in order to stay in the loop
about what he was doing. The two senior officials disagreed
on a number of issues and did not get along well. Haireche
added that the UN officials in New York had also failed to
consult internally before naming Axworthy, who in turn never
touched base with the diplomatic community, at least not in
Addis. The lesson Haireche underscored was that an extensive
body of knowledge and experience concerning the border issue
exists at the UN and among diplomats in the region, and a
future envoy would be well advised to tap into it.
Needed: Fresh Ideas
5. (C) Amb. Ennifar told the Charge that any new border envoy
must come with new ideas. An increased focus on economic
issues was one of the most promising fresh approaches, he
said. For example, the port of Djibouti was not working well
for Ethiopia and gaining new maritime commercial options
would be appealing to the landlocked country. Haireche
remarked that Ethiopia seemed to be building up the
importance of Badme as a bargaining chip, perhaps in order to
cede it eventually in return for internationally guaranteed
access to the Eritrean port of Asaab. Ennifar recalled that
in response to a bellicose Eritrean speech the week before,
Ethiopian FM Seyoum had offered a fairly measured response
that focused on economic issues.
6. (C) He also reported that PM Meles had told a group of
Eritrean opposition leaders recently that he would be willing
to give up heavily-disputed Badme if it would ensure border
demarcation and sustainable peace. Haireche added that
although some Ethiopian veterans opposed turning Badme over
to Eritrea after so much blood was spilled to recapture it,
veterans groups were not very well organized and did not
appear to represent a real constraint on the PM's
flexibility. On the other hand, Ennifar noted that Ethiopia's
opposition parties still officially opposed Eritrean
independence and were little inclined to compromise on the
border. For this reason, Meles would need international help
to sell whatever deal emerged to his domestic audience. Amb.
Ennifar suggested that contact with the Secretary of State at
the right time, for example, might be necessary. (Note:
Berhanu Nega, a prominent moderate in Ethiopia's principal
opposition party, told the Charge subsequently that
opposition would not try to roll back Eritrean independence
as such, but did need better sea access for maritime trade.)
Is Timing Right for a Solution?
7. (C) Unlike his boss Joseph Legwaila (see ref C), Ennifar
wondered whether both sides were hurting badly enough to take
difficult measures to break the stalemate. He recalled that,
prior to the recent extension of the UNMEE mandate, UN
officials in New York had considered cutting UNMEE back
severely in an effort to create incentives for the two
countries to move forward, but in the end the UNSC was
reluctant to take such a step now.
8. (C) Both Ennifar and Haireche agreed that the Ethiopian
government would not be prepared to move ahead on the border
issue until it felt that it had its internal political
situation under control. Ennifar, however, expressed
confidence that the election dispute that has bedeviled PM
Meles for several months would soon be over.
Will Eritrea Strike While Meles is Weak?
9. (C) Both Ennifar and Haireche agreed that if Ethiopia's
internal political situation worsened substantially, the
chances of an Eritrean attack would grow. UNMEE's political
advisor said that Eritrea had the military capacity to strike
quickly and seize key points, such as Badme, but could not
hold them against an Ethiopian counterattack. Isaias'
strategy, therefore, would likely be to take what he wanted,
then work for immediate international community intervention
to freeze the new status quo, possibly backed up by the
findings of the UN's Ethiopia/Eritrea Boundary Commission.
10. (C) PM Meles for his part seems not to be worried. He
told the Charge and AF DAS Yamamoto (Ref A) that "Isaias
doesn't want to die." He also does not see any drawn out
political violence. Chief of Staff General Samora told
Charge and DAO (septel) that the "tripwire" for an Eritrean
military attack would be the removal of UNMEE. Samora
considered such an attack unlikely, however, given that
Eritrea (like Ethiopia) had a good harvest; Eritrean sorties
are in the field not on the front lines, he said.
Probing for U.S. Intentions
10. (C) Haireche indicated that some of his contacts,
including those in both governments, were trying to determine
where the U.S. stood on the border issue now. He asked
whether the State and Defense Departments had the same view
on how to handle the problem. He speculated that DoD had a
different agenda than State and other agencies in Eritrea,
where it had strategic interests the took precedence over
other concerns. Haireche also remarked the Ethiopian
Government blamed State officials for short-circuiting the
GOE's five point peace plan in late 2004 and continued to be
wary of their involvement on the border issue.