US warned Eritrea of ‘strong and swift’ response to terror

By EA writer  (email the author)

Posted Monday, December 13 2010 at 17:34

The United States repeatedly warned Eritrea last year that it would be held accountable for any attack on the US by Somalia’s Al Shabaab militants, a leaked diplomatic cable reveals.

Eritrea is in a very perilous situation, US ambassador Ronald McMullen is said to have told government officials in Asmara.

“Support for Al Shabaab makes Eritrea at least partially responsible for Al Shabaab’s actions, yet Eritrea does not control it,” the February 2009 cable states.

“Based on recent history,” Mr McMullen asked Eritrean officials, “How do you think we would react to a major Al Shabaab terrorist attack against the United States?”

Phrasing the warning that way “seems to have driven home the point to our Eritrean interlocutors,” adds the message to Washington published last week on the WikiLeaks website.

The US envoy reports at another point in the cable that key Eritrean officials had been told to expect “a strong and swift American reaction” to any Al Shabaab attack against the US.

An unnamed senior Eritrean official had insisted, however, “If there was anything we could do to prevent a terrorist attack on the United States, we will do it.”

The same official did acknowledge Eritrean contact with Al Shabaab, but claimed it was “infrequent and indirect,” the document notes.

These exchanges took place in the context of what another cable terms a “charm offensive” that Eritrea had directed at the United States around the time of Barack Obama’s inauguration on January 20, 2009.

Eritrean officials apparently hoped the then-new Obama administration “will for some reason reverse US government opposition to the regime’s regional meddling and domestic oppression,” a March 2009 cable observes.

An “American Mafia” composed of Eritrean leaders who had lived in the United States were driving the effort to improve relations with Washington, the US envoy added in the February 2009 document.

He noted that Eritrea had sent a congratulatory letter to Mr Obama and had ordered a halt in the “daily diatribes” that state-controlled media had been hurling at the United States.

Mr McMullen recounted a luncheon to which he had been invited at the family farm of Hagos Ghebrehewit, the ruling party’s economic director and, the secret cable adds parenthetically, “architect of Eritrea’s imploding economy.”

Other leaked US diplomatic documents include strongly negative descriptions of Eritrean leader Isaias Afeworki and say conditions in the country are getting “worse and worse.”

An unnamed “leading Eritrean businessman” is said in a message from the Asmara embassy to have characterised Afeworki as mentally “sick.”

Source: The East African

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