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US Diplomatic Mission Seeks To Settle Dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea

The United States is sending a high-level diplomatic mission to the Horn of Africa to try to settle a border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Security Council has postponed a decision on its Ethiopia-Eritrea peacekeeping force pending the outcome of the U.S. mission.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton briefed the Security Council Monday on a fresh initiative by the United States aimed at breaking a nearly four-year stalemate on demarcation of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. He said Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, along with retired Marine Corps General and Africa expert Carlton Fulford, would lead a delegation to the region shortly in search of a compromise.

The U.N. sent a peacekeeping mission to enforce a 2000 agreement that ended a border war. The deal also committed both sides to abide by an independent boundary commission's ruling on the location of their disputed frontier.

But Ethiopia refused to accept the commission's decision. Eritrea, frustrated by a lack of progress on the border demarcation issue, last month ordered peacekeepers out of its territory.

The troops were removed, and Monday's closed-door Security Council meeting was initially called to consider what to do next.

After the meeting, Ambassador Bolton said the Council had agreed to defer action for 30-days to give the U.S. diplomatic initiative a chance to work. But he told reporters the United States is under no illusion about the difficulty of the mission. "I don't want to overstate this. I don't want any excessive expectations raised. We're going to undertake this with seriousness, but the issue of getting to the demarcation has been held up almost four years now. It's obviously not an easy undertaking, but we felt we are in the best position to try and do it," he said.

Security Council diplomats and U.N. officials alike welcomed the U.S. initiative. Undersecretary General for Peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno called the mission essential, and a real chance for peace at a time when there is a sense of urgency. But he acknowledged the task facing the U.S. mission is daunting.

"The end goal in the Ethiopia / Eritrea situation is very clear to everybody. How you get there is extremely difficult. The conclusion is two countries by themselves will not resolve the issue. There's need for the real engagement of the international community. The U.S. has solid relations with the two countries so it has clout and credibility to move process forward. There's never a certainty of success, but it should be appreciated that the United States is prepared to take diplomatic risk to engage itself to move the region away from war," she said.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea dispute is viewed as a test case of the Security Council's ability to settle regional disputes through the use of peacekeeping forces. Last month, Ambassador Bolton criticized the Council for what he called its "inability or unwillingness" to confront Ethiopia's refusal to adhere to the agreement it made in 2000.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emir Jones-Parry, Monday said peacekeeping troops must be given power and authority to force warring parties to abide by peace agreements. "It's crucial that the United Nations, when it puts in place a peacekeeping operation, that it can do the job, and that it's not jerked around (manipulated) by any of the individual parties. What I mean by that is that they have a responsibility that (when) the United Nations is prepared to put in a force, then they have to ensure that the force is capable of doing the job," he said.

Monday's Security Council session was called to discuss a report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan last week that listed six options for the Ethiopia-Eritrea force. Those options ranged from maintaining the mission to complete withdrawal.

But Assistant Secretary of State Frazer, who will lead the U.S. delegation, recently signaled Washington's interest in another option. Speaking to a congressional panel, Ms. Frazer said the solution to the Eritrea-Ethiopia impasse lies in political diplomacy. She suggested diplomatic maneuvering is already well under way.