U.S. President Joe Biden raised concerns about air strikes in the conflict in northern Ethiopia and about human rights issues during a call with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Monday, the White House said.
Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to working alongside the African Union and regional partners to help Ethiopians peacefully resolve the conflict,” the White House said in a readout of the call.
“Both leaders underscored the importance of the U.S.-Ethiopia relationship, the potential to strengthen cooperation on a range of issues, and the need for concrete progress to resolve the conflict,” it added.
The White House also said that Biden “commended” Abiy for announcing last week that the government would release high-profile political prisoners and that the two discussed ways to negotiate a cease-fire in the region amid ongoing violence.
In a tweet, Abiy characterised the phone call as “candid” and said it covered Ethiopia and regional issues as well as bilateral relations.
“We both agree there is great value in strengthening our cooperation through constructive engagement founded on mutual respect,” Abiy wrote.
The phone call took place two months after the Biden administration unveiled sanctions targeting the Eritrean government over the conflict in Ethiopia, which has persisted for more than a year.
The Eritrean government has aligned itself with the central Ethiopian government in fighting rebel Tigrayan forces in northern Ethiopia.
An executive order that Biden signed in September also empowered the departments of Treasury and State to impose sanctions against the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, but the administration has not yet sanctioned individuals or groups affiliated with those parties to the conflict.
Hundreds of people are believed to have been killed or wounded by airstrikes in Ethiopia over the past few months.
Reuters reported that aid workers said an Ethiopian military airstrike in the Tigray region late last week killed 56 people and wounded at least 30 in a camp for individuals displaced by the conflict.
Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, a senior Biden administration official characterised the call between Biden and Abiy as “businesslike,” “serious” and “substantive.”
The official said Biden made clear that he wants to see the Ethiopian army cease airstrikes and stop going into the Tigray region, expand humanitarian access and engage in ceasefire talks.