From: Eilperin, Juliet [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Monday, July 27, 2015 07:18 PM
To: Velz, Peter T. EOP
Subject: Travel pool report #9: Background briefing on South Sudan
At roughly 6:15 pm EAT, three senior administration officials briefed the pool on the multilateral meeting held this afternoon in Addis Ababa. Please check any quotes against the transcript, because we are now leaving to cover the state dinner and are rushing a bit.
A senior administration official said the meeting was “productive” and lasted nearly two hours. The bulk of the discussion was on South Sudan, with the rest of it on Somalia and counterterrorism.
“On South Sudan, there was widespread unanimity about the urgency and severity of the situation on the ground, particularly the humanitarian situation that the people of South Sudan are enduring,” the official said.
All the leaders agreed that members of Africa’s Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the two warring parties in South Sudan need to “unite behind an agreed outcome by August 17th”
Two thirds of the discussion focused on how to reach such an agreement, the official said, while a third of it focused on what to do if that didn’t happen.
“There were varying views expressed” on what to do if the peace process did not yield results, the official added.
Those options included increased pressure on the parties through sanctions and the “possibility of a regional intervention force,” which was raised by one African country at the table.
Of the idea of using force, the official said, “This was not something that the United States suggested or proposed,” and it was “not a hard and fast plan.”
“But frankly, the focus is on what needs to happen between now and August 17,” the official said.
The official noted that the U.N. Security Council has already passed a resolution that “explicitly threatened additional sanctions” and there is a strong possibility the U.S. and other countries “will go back to that resolution and ask whether it’s time for additional pressure.”
“The president was very clear that this is a problem first and foremost for the region to resolve,” the official added, saying that while it remains a regional problem, “It is becoming of a scale and intensity that all of us are ultimately, one way or another, affected.”
In terms of the discussion on Somalia, a second official said the group spoke of the need to support the AMISOM peacekeeping operation there as well as the importance of working to grow the capacity of Somali institutions.
Asked about the Potus characterization of Ethiopia's government as "democratically elected," the senior officials said both he and the administration had been clear about the problems with the last election, including the lack of independent media and lack of effective space for opposition.
But Potus was recognizing the challenges for a country that was led until two decades ago by a monarchy and then a dictatorship. "I think the president was very frank," one of the officials said. "I don’t think in any way he was being soft but he was putting it in a certain context."
Officials said they were struck by the prime minister's admission at the news conference that their democracy was still fledgling and needed improvement. In private, they said, he was even more candid. "In the bilat meeting, the government expressed some discomfort with the uniform outcome as not indicative of the kind of competition they want to," one official said. The official added: "I've never seen a day like today."
Another official argued that not coming to Ethiopia and staying home to issue satisfying statements of condemnation would be counterproductive because countries like Ethiopia could find help from other countries. (This official did not name China, although that seemed a logical inference.) "These countries have options," the official said. "It’s not as if they have nowhere to go. This is the world as it is and engagement is our best lever."
Thanks to fellow pooler Peter Baker for assistance in transcription.
White House Bureau Chief