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Blinken calls for an end to the violence in Ethiopia, during news conference

NOEL KING, HOST:

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Nairobi today. Much of the Horn of Africa is in disarray. Ethiopia is in the middle of a civil war. Sudan just had a military coup. The U.S. and Blinken want to show that the United States is engaged in Africa. NPR's Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is with us from his base in Cape Town, South Africa. Hey, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: So the most urgent situation in East Africa, obviously, is this war and attendant humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. Secretary Blinken just held a press conference. What did he say?

PERALTA: So he was very clear that all sides in this conflict have to stop fighting and come to a negotiating table. But Secretary Blinken was asked what the U.S. was doing beyond words to stop the fighting. And he struggled with that question, saying that they were leaning on the African Union's envoy to try and get the belligerents to talk. And Blinken was also asked why the U.S. isn't calling the atrocities that happened at the beginning of this conflict a genocide. And he said the U.S. is still working on the facts. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONY BLINKEN: We have seen, we continue to see, atrocities being committed, people suffering. And regardless of what we call it, it needs to stop, and there needs to be accountability. And we're determined that there will be.

PERALTA: And as Blinken has said before, his main priority here is to keep Ethiopia from imploding and creating a wider regional conflict and to head off a famine in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

KING: Sudan, Ethiopia's neighbor to the west, is also having a lot of trouble. There was a period where it seemed like it was on its way to becoming a democracy. The United States was very happy about that. The U.S. backed a transitional government, and that government was ousted by a military coup last month. How is the United States working on Sudan?

PERALTA: Much like what he said the U.S. is doing in Ethiopia. During the press conference, Blinken was clear about what the U.S. thinks needs to happen in Sudan, that is for the military coup to be walked back. What he wasn't very clear on is how Sudan gets there. What Blinken said is that he has been working the phones. The U.S. is trying to get countries with more influence with the Sudanese military, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to use that influence. But so far, that doesn't seem to be having concrete results.

KING: With these dual crises in Ethiopia and Sudan, can Blinken even address some of the core issues in that part of Africa? I'm thinking about the pandemic, I'm thinking about economic development, the kinds of things that normally would consume a secretary of state.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, what I can say for sure is that it's tough on all fronts. On the pandemic, sub-Saharan Africa writ large has vaccinated about 6% of its people, and a lot of the criticism for that low vaccination rate has fallen on Western nations like the U.S., which have hoarded vaccine supplies. And, you know, on the warfront, as I sort of alluded to, the two big conflicts right now, Ethiopia and Sudan, very little has shifted on the ground. The military is still fully in control in Sudan. In Ethiopia, the rebels and the government seem to have irreconcilable positions. And Blinken and his Kenyan counterpart put on a brave face. They said that negotiations are possible, that a cease-fire is possible in Ethiopia, but the fighting continues. The rebels continue to march toward the capital, Addis Ababa. And analysts I've spoken to seem to think that peace is not in the cards, at least not in the short term.

KING: OK, NPR's Eyder Peralta in Cape Town, South Africa. Thank you, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.