Africa: Online Briefing With Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs - Michael Hammer, Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa - and John Godfrey, U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Sudan

Tom Perriello (left in both photos) on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served one term in the U.S. House representing Virginia's 5th District, waiting for the arrival of President Biden for his State of the Union address. Pictured in social media posts with (right) Rep . Gregory Meeks, ranking Democratic on the Foreign Affairs Committee and (left) with Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner with Ron Wyden (Oregon) in the rear. Former members are granted access to the House floor, and many regularly attend the high-profile annual presidential speech.

Johannesburg Hub — MODERATOR: Good afternoon to everyone from the U.S. Department of State's Africa Regional Media Hub. I welcome our participants logging in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining this discussion on the topic of U.S. efforts with African partners to advance peace and security. Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee; Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Michael Hammer; and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Sudan John Godfrey. Our three speakers will discuss the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa and U.S. efforts in partnership with African institutions to promote peace and stability in eastern DRC, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Sudan.

We will begin today's briefing with opening remarks from our speakers and we will then turn to your questions. We will try to get to as many of your questions as we can during the briefing.

With that, I will turn it over to Assistant Secretary Molly Phee, Ambassador Godfrey, and Ambassador Hammer for their opening remarks.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Hello, everyone. Thanks to our hub team for pulling this together and to those journalists who can join us for this call. We have a lot to cover today given that we did a lot during our travel last week to the African Union Summit in Addis as well as to Somalia. I was joined by the U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Mike Hammer and my USAID counterpart, Assistant Administrator Dr. Monde Muyangwa. And of course I was able to see and work with our great team on the ground in Addis, which includes Ambassador Erv Massinga, our ambassador to the - to Ethiopia; Ambassador John Godfrey, who is our ambassador to Sudan; and our chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Mission to the African Union, Mika Cleverly.

If you follow me on X, or formerly Twitter, you will have seen we had a very active week of diplomacy with our African partners, and so today we thought it would be useful to share more details with you as well as answer any questions. You know we value your work as journalists, even when you're critical, and we firmly stand for freedom of the press on the continent and around the globe.

Let me begin with our visit to Addis, which reflects our strong partnership with African institutions and countries. You have heard Secretary Blinken frequently emphasize in his speech announcing the U.S. strategy towards Africa and highlighted at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit that President Biden hosted in December 2022 that the United States is deeply committed to strengthening genuine partnerships on the continent to work to solve shared challenges and to deliver on the promises and the fundamental aspirations of the people of Africa and the people of the United States.

This past week, the primary focus of our efforts were the ongoing crises in eastern DRC and Sudan as well as tensions between Ethiopia and Somalia resulting from the January 1st Ethiopia-Somaliland MOU. We also held important discussions about the nature and scope of a follow-on mission to the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia, known as ATMIS, and bilaterally we had a chance to meet with many members of the Ethiopian Government as part of our work to advance peace, human rights, and stability in Ethiopia.

First, let me share some of our efforts on eastern DRC as we try to de-escalate the conflict between the DRC and Rwanda. I had the opportunity to meet with President Tshisekedi, President Lourenço, and President Ruto, and President Hichilema in an effort to defuse the situation. As many of you know, we've been actively engaged to prevent conflict between DRC and Rwanda for months. This effort intensified last November with the visit of the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, and when she went to Kinshasa and to Kigali, and as you know, I and a few other team members were on that trip.

As a result of that engagement, there have been intense, regular conversations between senior U.S. Government officials and the senior officials of the governments in Kigali and Kinshasa, including President Tshisekedi and President Kagame. Our goal is to keep all the stakeholders engaged. And I also want to remind folks that Secretary Blinken had a chance to talk with President Lourenço in person about this matter when he traveled to Luanda in January.

Throughout this recent time period, we have been directly engaged with both governments as well as regional partners to develop and enact mutually agreed upon confidence-building measures that could de-escalate the situation and create room for the Luanda and Nairobi processes to resume. Our engagement is designed to support these regional diplomatic efforts, especially the Luanda and Nairobi processes, as they are designed themselves to promote de-escalation and create the conditions for lasting peace in the DRC.

It was agreed that our role would be to assess and be clear if either side is not honoring the confidence-building measures and commitments that were forged in our discussions. Keeping the stakeholders engaged and responsive in this process is our goal. As you know, we're quite concerned about recent events, and you may have seen the statement that was issued last Saturday.

On the other hand, we were also really delighted to see the serious engagement of regional leaders, and we stand ready to support their efforts to resolve this conflict. And again, we call on all sides to participate constructively in reaching a negotiated solution.

During the past week, I also visited Mogadishu with Ambassador Hammer. That trip was planned as a follow-on to discussions that were organized at our request at the African Union in Addis on February 14th - I'm sorry, February 13th - with the Core Security Partners Group to maintain momentum to counter al-Shabaab after the ATMIS mission concludes at the end of this year. As dedicated partners of Somalia, we are fully committed to strengthening the Somalia National Army and supporting their counterterrorism efforts, as you saw with the announcement of U.S. funding support for an additional five bases for the Danab Somali Brigade. It is also important that an appropriately scoped multinational presence remains in Somalia to help maintain stability until Somalia security forces can fully take over.

And in our meeting with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, as we did in our meeting with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis, we urged a de-escalation of tensions based on respect for Somalia's sovereignty and territorial integrity - the same words you heard AU Chairperson Moussa Faki stress in his opening address at the summit.

The issue of Ethiopia's desire for increased commercial port access - a valid concern - should be resolved through talks with the federal Government of Somalia and neighboring states, or possibly as part of a regional approach that is based on cooperation and regional economic and security integration.

The issue of Somaliland's status should be resolved by the people of Somalia, including the people of Somaliland, not by external actors. The region can ill afford more conflict.

I also had a chance to discuss important efforts towards constitutional reform with the president and separately with the speaker of the parliament and several other MPs.

And as I close my remarks at the top on Somalia, I'd like to express my admiration for the team on the ground - the State Department, USAID, and other interagency partners - for their stellar service in a very difficult environment. And we also greatly appreciate the role of the U.S. military who are also deployed in Somalia.

So I'm going to close off here and turn it over to John Godfrey to review our engagements with Sudan, as we remain deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation and the continued fighting that is threatening to break up the country. I spent a lot of time in Addis this past week with pro-democracy Sudanese civilians - women, representatives of grassroots organizations, and emergency response rooms, which are groups of young Sudanese trying to get humanitarian assistance out. I also met with members of the Taqaddum front and others, all who are working tirelessly to advocate for the Sudanese people and prepare for post-conflict governance. I want to underscore upfront that the United States does not support military governance and will continue, as we have done for decades, to support the Sudanese people against military oppression and in their goal of charting a democratic future.

After John talks about Sudan, Mike will brief on our bilateral meetings with Ethiopia, and then we'll turn to your questions. Thank you very much for your time and attention. Over to you, John.

AMBASSADOR GODFREY: Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Phee. As Assistant Secretary Phee said, we are deeply concerned about the worsening humanitarian situation and intensified fighting in Sudan, which threatens to divide the country and further destabilize the region. And just for context, I wanted to highlight a UN OCHA report released last Saturday that estimated that there are more than 6.2 million Sudanese who have been internally displaced since the fighting began last April, and about 1.8 million further Sudanese who are refugees in neighboring countries, which makes this the largest displacement crisis anywhere in the world at the moment. At the same time, acute food insecurity affects about 17.7 million Sudanese, 5 to 6 million of whom may face acute starvation as early as May.

During her time here in Addis last week, Assistant Secretary Phee held an intensive series of meetings on Sudan, as she mentioned, and her meetings focused on three sets of issues: one, the urgent need to stop the fighting; two, facilitating humanitarian access, which is badly needed; and three, supporting Sudan's civilians, who must determine the country's post-conflict future.

As Assistant Secretary Phee said at the top, she met with women civil society representatives, leaders of grassroots organizations, and resistance committee members, representatives of the emergency response rooms, and members of the Taqaddum pro-democracy front. Her discussions with Sudanese civilians focused on increasing women's participation in a political process and in post-conflict governance, on expanding international actors' engagement with local actors providing humanitarian assistance - and that includes the ERRs that were mentioned - and further diversifying Taqaddum to be more broadly representative and able to speak with a unified voice to articulate civilians' concerns and put pressure on the two warring parties.

Throughout, she made it clear that the United States has long stood with the Sudanese people - that is, the Sudanese civilians - and that neither SAF nor RSF should play a role in post-conflict governance, and that ending the Sudan conflict and restoring civilian governance are high U.S. priorities. In her many meetings with key stakeholders on multilateral efforts, Assistant Secretary Phee discussed the need for resumed ceasefire talks and coordination of regional initiatives; the urgent need to facilitate humanitarian assistance, which is becoming more urgent by the day, and that includes cross-border assistance from Chad and South Sudan ahead of the impending rainy season, which will make roads impassable; pressing for Sudan-related action in the UN Security Council; and insisting the belligerent parties fulfill their obligations under international humanitarian law as well as meet their commitments to facilitate humanitarian assistance and protect civilians as they agreed to do under the Jeddah Declaration, which neither have done.

Thank you.

AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Thank you, John. This is Mike Hammer. Good afternoon, good morning, depending on where you are. Regarding the meetings that we had with Assistant Secretary Phee and our Ambassador to Ethiopia Erv Massinga, I'd like to highlight those meetings that we had with Prime Minister Abiy, Foreign Minister Taye, Finance Minister Shide, civil society representatives, as well as the Interim Regional Administration President Getachew Reda of Tigray, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Director Daniel Bekele. And in all those meetings, we expressed U.S. support for the full implementation of the Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, which is known as COHA, as well as our willingness to facilitate dialogue with the Oromo Liberation Army and participate in possible talks with the Amhara Fano aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to ongoing violence, as there is no military solution. We appreciate that the Government of Ethiopia has expressed its openness to dialogue.

We also raised our rising concerns about the human rights situations in Amhara and Oromia and urged that the government ensure the protection of civilians and hold to account perpetrators of abuses. While work remains, we acknowledge progress on transitional justice and advancing a national dialogue that is inclusive and credible. Both are key to overcoming past grievances and setting Ethiopia on a better trajectory.

Specifically to advance the COHA, Ambassador Molly Phee, of course Ambassador Massinga and I, participated in a meeting February 17th hosted by the National Reconciliation Committee headed by Ambassador Teshome with key donors in support of disarmament, demobilization, and the reintegration program in Tigray that is essential to advancing a lasting peace. The United States stands ready to disburse $15 million to support DDR activities, and we came away heartened by the considerable financial commitments made by international partners to enable the launch of the program soon. And today I'm actually calling in from Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region, where I'm following up with the IRA leadership and had a chance to meet with civil society organizations that our USAID is supporting, which provide assistance to survivors of gender-based violence from the horrific two-year war.

I was also briefed by the African Union's Monitoring, Verification and Compliance Mission. And while there has been a dramatic decrease in human rights violations since the end of the war brought on by the Pretoria Agreement in November of 2022, we remain concerned by the lingering presence of Eritrean troops on Ethiopian territory. It is also urgent that internally displaced people who have suffered so much be able to return to their homes.

Allow me to make a final point. We know from experience that following agreements to end hostilities, the really hard work is implementation. That is what we are doing now. Much remains to be done, but we are encouraged that 15 months after Pretoria, both the federal government in Addis and the Tigrayan Interim Regional Administration remain committed to peace.

Now I believe the assistant secretary, John, and I are ready to take your questions. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Okay. Thank you very much, Assistant Secretary Phee, Ambassador Godfrey, and Ambassador Hammer. We will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today's briefing. For those of you who are listening in in Arabic and French, I believe we have had a technical problem with the Arabic interpretation, and I apologize for that. You are nevertheless welcome to submit questions in the Q&A tab in either French or Arabic, and we will address your questions at the very least, and we're working on the interpretation issue.

As for all journalists, please - if you would like to ask a question live, please indicate that by clicking on the raise hand button, and then also please make sure that we can see your name, your media outlet, your location, and preferably your question also in the Q&A tab. I just want you to understand that, from our side, we only see your Zoom logon, and we quite possibly might only see a telephone number. So if we cannot tell who you are or what outlet you're from, we will not call on you.

So for all questions, we'd ask you that - ask that you limit yourself to one question only. And again, the topic of today's briefing is: U.S. Efforts with African Partners to Advance Peace and Security.

So for our first question, I'd like to go to Mr. Steve Wembi of Infos Direct, Democratic Republic of the Congo. The question is: "The U.S.A. had called for a ceasefire in the armed conflict in the east of the country and asked the belligerents to resolve the conflict politically. Unfortunately, this ceasefire was respected for only a few days, and today there is a full resumption of fighting. What is your next approach to silence the weapons in the east?"

Assistant Secretary Phee, if you would like to take that question.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Sure. Thanks very much, Steve. We remain committed to the idea and the principle that there is no military solution to the crisis in eastern DRC. What I took away from our meetings in Addis about this discussion - and as you heard, we talked with the leadership of Angola and Kenya and Zambia, as well as President Tshisekedi. We understand that everyone is ready to do their part to try and reduce tensions, reduce fighting, and provide relief to the people of eastern DRC who have suffered so much and for so long. So again, we are trying to provide our unique resources and capabilities in monitoring actions in that part of the world to contribute towards confidence and legitimacy processes to resolve the tensions.

So we're committed, our partners are committed, the parties are committed to working with us, and we continue to work intensively to address the crisis.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you, Assistant Secretary. So for our second question, I'd like to go to Mr. Alula Birhanie of the Addis Media Network in Ethiopia. And the question is: "How extensive are the political measures taken by the U.S.A. to stabilize the region?" Ambassador Hammer, would you like to address that one?

AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Well, maybe I could defer first to Molly as the broader region, and then maybe dive deeper into Ethiopia.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: I'm not really sure I understand the question, Johann. What was it again? What measures we're taking --


MODERATOR: How - yeah.

AMBASSADOR HAMMER: -- take a first crack at it.


AMBASSADOR HAMMER: Basically what this call reflects is the tremendous American engagement at senior levels - from the White House to Secretary Blinken to the travels that the assistant secretary has just done - in our effort to work with our African partners, to - as the question asked - to actually stabilize the region. I think that it goes without question that the United States is focused on trying to alleviate the suffering that we've seen throughout the Horn, and that we are prepared to remain very much engaged, not only to end the conflicts but also to help Africans in the Horn of Africa build a better future for themselves.

And really, it is important that it be recognized that we don't do this alone, and we do it with our African partners. The visit to the African Union Summit was an opportunity for all of us to engage on these issues, to think together on how we can partner and how we can be most effective in trying to, again, bring peace and stability to the region. But perhaps, again, the assistant secretary would like to add something further.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: No, thanks, Mike. I think you've covered it, and I believe it should be clear from the number and type of meetings that we described how deeply we value our engagement with our African partners to support them as they strive to bring peace and prosperity for their populations. And where there are those who engage in disruptive activities, we are there to counsel otherwise and to encourage getting back on the path to peace and prosperity.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. I'd just like to remind all the participants today: If you do have a question, please type that into the Q&A box, not the chat, okay? And again, if you wish to ask a question, please make sure that you have identified yourself and we know what outlet you're from.

Okay. So next question comes from Aidan Lewis, Reuters, in the UK: "How concerned are you about foreign states deepening Sudan's war by supporting the rival sides or fighting proxy conflicts there? And to what extent are the warring factions in Sudan impeding the delivery of humanitarian aid?"

So Ambassador Godfrey?

AMBASSADOR GODFREY: Great, thank you, Johann. To answer the question, I would say that we are deeply concerned by external support to SAF and RSF, and have since the beginning of the conflict urged external actors to refrain from providing materiel support to the two belligerent parties, which has two principle consequences: one, it prolongs the fighting, extends the war; it also reduces the prospects for finding a negotiated exit from the conflict. And I would just note here that the recent UN panel of experts report highlighted violations of the Darfur arms embargo. In addition, there is - there are reports about resumed ties between Sudan and Iran that could include, reportedly include Iranian materiel support to SAF, which is also very troubling and a source of great concern for us.

On the issue of humanitarian assistance, I think this is a really timely question, and unfortunately the answer to the query is that neither side has taken the steps that they have repeatedly committed to to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid. So just to remind: Under the Jeddah Declaration of Commitment to Protect the Sudanese Civilians, both SAF and RSF signed on to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief. And very candidly, that has not happened.

In addition to that, there were a series of measures that they agreed to, confidence-building measures, in the second round of Jeddah talks, that included participation in a humanitarian forum under the auspices of UN OCHA, as well as specific steps to facilitate humanitarian assistance corridors and distribution of aid inside Khartoum itself. Those have not been met either.

And finally, there is the persistent issue of so-called bureaucratic impediments, which includes things like visas for humanitarian assistance workers, travel permits, and inspection of humanitarian cargoes. Those remain persistent challenges for humanitarian actors. And finally, I would highlight the confusing signals principally from the Sudanese Armed Forces about whether they would or would not facilitate cross-line assistance into areas under RSF control.

The upshot of all of that is that humanitarian assistance since last April has not been able to flow in a rapid and unimpeded way that both sides have committed to, and that you now have a situation where 17.7 million Sudanese, approximately, are in a state of acute food insecurity, and 5 to 6 million of them may be in a situation of acute starvation as early as late May.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Godfrey. So I see a hand up and a submitted question from Sisay Sahlu. Sisay, can we open your mic? Please limit yourself to just one question, and keep it brief, if you don't mind.

QUESTION: Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Yes, we can hear you now.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Sisay Sahlu; I'm a journalist in Ethiopia, media called The Reporter newspaper. I would like to know just, Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee, regarding the resolution of the conflict between the two largest groups in Oromia and Amhara region, regarding the fight and the death of numerous civilians, the fight with the federal troop. My argument here is, like, I want to make clear that is, like, the U.S. officials are trying to solve the - see the issue, like, as it was seen in the northern Ethiopia?

These are - the ongoing conflict in Oromia and Amhara is tough, and it has never been seen by U.S. officials. Is there any sanction? Is there anything that the U.S. officials are looking to impose or to try to solve that's happening in Oromia and Amhara region, especially with the Fano groups and with the (inaudible) groups? Is there any sanction list for authorities who are, like, unwilling to resolve the dispute? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Thank you, Sisay. If you heard about the number of meetings we had in Ethiopia, we met with many members of the government as well as community and human rights activists, as well as Dr. Daniel Bekele. So this has been a recurring theme in our discussions with our Ethiopian partners. The prime minister says that he is committed to peaceful resolution of the challenges that Ethiopia is now facing in the Amhara and Oromia regions. We encourage him to act on that commitment.

We have expressed concern publicly and privately about the conduct of security services in responding to insurgent and criminal attacks. We know that that's a complicated security challenge, but more must be done to respect the rights of civilians. And we remain postured through our ambassadors in the region to support the Ethiopian Government and other stakeholders as they try to restore calm to both regions.

AMBASSADOR HAMMER: If I may add - this is Mike Hammer - you may also recall that we were directly involved in a round of talks with the Oromo Liberation Army in Dar es Salaam last November, and remain ready, as we've offered to the government and the parties, to help facilitate a peaceful resolution to that conflict. And we know that our Ambassador Massinga in Addis is also offered to the government, and if there's an opportunity to engage with the Fano, we would welcome the opportunity to try to, again, advance peace. And as we've said repeatedly, there is no military solution to these conflicts. And in fact, the focus right now should be on dialogue and of course ensuring the protection of civilians. Thank you.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you very much. I'd like to invite Ange Kasongo, Reuters, in the DRC, to ask her question, which was posed in French. Ange, you may pose your question in French or in English, as you like. We do have interpretation.

QUESTION: (In French.)

MODERATOR: All right, thank you for the question. Which of our panelists would like to address that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: You need to provide us with some guidance about where we can find the translation so we're properly responding to the question.

MODERATOR: Ah. Okay, apologies. There is a translation tab, but I will - let me just read; we have a translation of it at any rate. "So the efforts in Addis Ababa between Kigali and Kinshasa, under the auspices of Angola, have not succeeded in either a promise of dialogue or in a ceasefire. Can you tell us a little bit about the blockage which has not permitted this conflict to arrive to a stage of dialogue?"

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Well, I can reaffirm the commitment of the United States to continue to press both sides, as well as to work energetically with regional countries to try and address the current spike in conflict that we're seeing in eastern DRC. We have - we would prefer to use the channel that we've established between the two parties in which we've agreed together with them on a series of confidence-building measures that would restore calm and create a space for dialogue. And when the parties don't agree to those measures, we - or don't follow through on their promised implementation, we will call them out.

This conflict, as you know better than I, has been long running for decades. So it is not a surprise that we haven't reached immediate resolution, but we have had some success over the past few months. Again, I was encouraged by my engagement in Addis, where it was clear to me that the regional partners are committed to trying to take additional steps to de-escalate the situation. And we will just continue to try, because the consequences for the people of eastern DRC and for the security and stability of the region are too costly not to remain actively engaged and pressing forward.

I would like to highlight that yesterday the UN Security Council adopted additional sanctions measures against the M23, and we will continue to look at all tools available to us to encourage resolution of the tensions.

MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much. Our time is running short. I think we might have time for one more question. There's a question in the Q&A from Galami Ahmat Galami of Tchad Media in N'Djamena. And the question is translated: "Thank you for this press conference. The situation in Sudan has consequences for Chad, and it's important to address those consequences. The United States has proposed several solutions to stop the war, including diplomatic efforts, economic sanctions, and peacekeeping initiatives. It's a complex issue, but an international cooperation and dialogue are crucial for finding a resolution. Is - what is the United States approach to resolving the conflict and the spillover effects into Chad."

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: John, do you want to address that first?

AMBASSADOR GODFREY: Yeah, sure, happy to do so. Thank you for the question. First of all, I'd like to start by thanking Chad for hosting such a large number of Sudanese refugees, including but not only from the Darfur region, who have been displaced by the fighting. Chad has been a very good host for those refugees, and we know that that puts a burden on the country. You're right that we have adopted a series of different measures to try to bring an end to the fighting, facilitate humanitarian access, and ensure that in a post-conflict environment there is civilian governance with no role for either of the military parties in governance.

We have called on SAF and RSF to fulfill the commitments they both made to IGAD at the extraordinary summit on December 9th to meet face to face at the level of General Burhan and General Hemedti. We've also called for them to implement what they agreed to in principle there, which is an unconditional and - ceasefire, and an immediate one. We have worked actively from the beginning of the conflict, as I mentioned earlier, to urge external actors to refrain from providing materiel assistance. We were actively involved in two rounds of talks in Jeddah that were designed to achieve ceasefires and facilitate humanitarian assistance. And in the first round of Jeddah, we were able to effect some short-term ceasefires that enabled the delivery of about - of humanitarian assistance to about two and a half million people.

We have used sanctions, and Assistant Secretary Phee has been very clear with both sides that we will continue to identify additional potential actions going forward for as long as the fighting continues and the two sides refuse to negotiate an exit to the fighting. And just to remind - since the beginning of the conflict, we've sanctioned 14 individuals and entities to deny the belligerents the means to prosecute the war, and also to reduce and deter atrocities and other human rights violations, as well as to ensure that there's a post-conflict civilian government, and again, not one that is dominated by either of the belligerents. And the other measures have included the Secretary of State issuing an atrocities determination on December 6th that indicated that SAF has committed war crimes and that the RSF has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing.

But maybe just to get to what's arguably the most important part of the question, we've now had several different efforts to reach a negotiated exit from the conflict, including the Jeddah talks, IGAD's initiative in December and January, and more recently, talks in Manama. We are open to the possibility of going back to talks, and frankly, I think we're open in terms of what the venue is and what the format is. We do think there needs to be participation by the external actors who have leverage to bring to bear against both parties so that we can find a negotiated exit to this terrible conflict.

MODERATOR: Okay. Well, I think we might have time for one more question. And there's a question in here from Constance Daire for Africa Intelligence. "Regarding the MOU between Ethiopia and Somaliland, are you worried it will affect the fight in Somalia against al-Shabaab, especially regarding the Ethiopian forces in ATMIS? And has the official signing of the MOU been delayed after meetings with the Ethiopian authorities in the context of the AU Summit?" And that will --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Thanks for that question. As I explained in my opening statement, we had always planned to travel to Mogadishu on the occasion of the African Union Summit, because now is the time for everyone to be focused on discussing the scope and shape of the future ATMIS mission, which is designed to end at the end of this year. We were grateful that the African Union Commission hosted a meeting with all the stakeholders who are engaged in Somalia's fight against al-Shabaab, and that includes the troop-contributing countries from Africa, including Ethiopia. Those were - that was an important discussion about how we can all work together on that project, and that's where the focus needs to be. That's why I had agreed to travel to Somalia to highlight the American commitment to Somalia as they seek to liberate their country from al-Shabaab and be able to develop their country for their people.

So that is the goal for all of us. That's what we shared with the Ethiopian Government, that while we recognize their legitimate concerns as a landlocked country, we needed to address those concerns in a way that didn't disrupt the shared commitment among all partners in the region, on the continent, and internationally, to help Somalia through this difficult period. So that's where our focus is now, and that we're encouraging all sides to de-escalate the tensions that were provoked by the MOU, to communicate better. We're contributing, hopefully, to improve communication, and we also consulted with other partners in the Horn about how to, again, focus on what we're doing together to tighten up our effort to combat al-Shabaab and help Somalia develop.

It was important to me to also have a conversation with Somali partners when I was in Mogadishu about their need to continue to focus on governance, to deprive al-Shabaab from any sort of weakness among their engagement among the member states that creates a vulnerability for the terrorists. So that's the focus of the parties, that's our focus, and we will continue to contribute to, again, a reduction in tensions and an expansion in communication so there's no room for misinterpretation or inadvertent miscommunication that could cause trouble. Thank you.

MODERATOR: All right. Thank you very much. So that does conclude the Q&A portion of our briefing today. And I'm glad we were able to get to so many of the questions. There were a lot of journalists online and a lot of interest. We were not able to get to everybody, but unfortunately our time is limited. I'd like to find - I'd like to ask whether Assistant Secretary Phee, Ambassador Hammer, or Ambassador Godfrey have any final words and invite you to deliver any final thoughts you might have at this point.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY PHEE: Well, thanks for that opportunity. And again, thanks to all for spending some time with us today. I hope you walk away from this conversation with the knowledge that the United States remains deeply engaged with all of our partners across the continent in a support role to help them address these longstanding tensions and challenges. Again, we're acutely focused on the crises in Sudan and in eastern DRC given the damage they are doing both to the people of those regions and to stability on the continent. And we continue to remain engaged with all partners in an effort to promote stability and create the conditions for peace and economic development.

I know that Mike and John would much rather be working, as I would, on expanding trade and investment, but we need to see secure conditions to allow that focus on economic development. So thanks to all of you for listening to us. I hope you come away reassured that we're deeply engaged and will remain deeply engaged across the continent. Thank you.

MODERATOR: All right. Ambassador Hammer, Ambassador Godfrey, any final words for us?

AMBASSADOR HAMMER: No, I think the Assistant Secretary covered it well. Again, as always, we appreciate your interest and also your courage. Oftentimes, as journalists working in very difficult and challenging environments, freedom of the press, as Molly said at the opening, is essential and is something that we as the United States support not only on the continent but around the world. So thank you again for your time and the work that you do.

AMBASSADOR GODFREY: Just would echo Assistant Secretary Phee's expression of appreciation for the chance to engage with everybody today on a really important set of challenging issues facing the region, and appreciate the interest and the thoughtful questions.

MODERATOR: All right, that concludes today's briefing. I want to thank Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Michael Hammer, and U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Sudan John Godfrey, for joining us. Thank you to all the journalists for participating. A recording and transcript of today's briefing will be distributed to participating journalists as soon as we can produce them this evening. If you have any questions about today's briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at I would like - also like to invite everyone to follow us on Twitter at our handle @AfricaMediaHub. Thank you.

AllAfrica publishes around 400 reports a day from more than 100 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.