US, Russia play blame game as diplomats circle each other in Ethiopia

Addis Ababa, March 09, 2018 (GMN) - US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who are touring Africa, couldn't meet during their stay in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. Both countries are trading accusations about who's to blame.

Senior Russian and US officials on Thursday failed to meet during their Africa tour and now both countries are trading accusations about who's to blame. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Russian warily circled each other in the continent, where both are paying official visits this week. 

As their two countries trade accusations over Syria, Ukraine, and even the Oscars, their governments are trolling each other with barbs on social media. Russia said that both Tillerson and Lavrov were staying at the lush Sheraton Addis resort while in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where Tillerson met with the country's outgoing prime minister and with the African Union Commission's chairman on Thursday. 

It was unclear how long the two overlapped in the Ethiopian capital. Tillerson arrived on Wednesday afternoon. Lavrov departed sometime on Wednesday and arrived late at night at his next stop in Harare, Zimbabwe.

Russia seeks a meeting with Tillerson 

Russia for days had been calling publicly for a meeting and accused Washington of failing to respond to its request. Not so, the United States insisted. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said this week that the US had received no request from Russia's government for a meeting with Tillerson and had "no meeting to announce at this time." That prompted Lavrov to dispute her directly. From Zimbabwe, Lavrov said he'd preferred not weigh in but felt compelled after learning that the State Department claimed no meeting was ever discussed.

"I want to say that this is untrue," Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Russian state news agency Tass. Lavrov has already visited Angola, Namibia, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, and is expected in Addis Ababa on Friday where he is due to hold talks with Ethiopian authorities and leaders of the African Union continental bloc. Tillerson would be in Addis at the same time, but that no meeting had been agreed.

Africa moves on after Trump slur

On Thursday, Tillerson and AU commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat discussed security and counter-terrorism, trade and development, corruption and conflict in an hour-long meeting at the continental body's headquarters in the Ethiopian capital. But looming over the meeting was Trump's alleged description of African nations as "shithole countries" in January, which forced the president to pen a letter reaffirming his commitment to the continent. Faki, however, insisted the slur was now in the past.

Tillerson's five-nation Africa tour - to include Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria, all key allies in fighting extremism - has been described as a "listening tour", with no deals or initiatives due to be announced.

The diplomat met Ethiopia's Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu as well as Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who resigned earlier this month amid a political crisis in Africa's fastest growing economy.

Tillerson on Chinese loans

Tillerson said that African countries should be careful not to forfeit their sovereignty when they accept loans from China, the continent's biggest trading partner. "We are not in any way attempting to keep Chinese dollars from Africa," Tillerson told a news conference in the Ethiopian capital. "It is important that African countries carefully consider the terms of those agreements and not forfeit their sovereignty."

The United States is the leading aid donor to Africa but China surpassed it as a trade partner in 2009. Beijing has pumped billions into infrastructure projects, though critics say the use of Chinese firms and labour undermines their value. Tillerson said Chinese investments "do not bring significant job creation locally" and

 Russia eyes Zimbabwe's diamonds and platinum

Russia's Sergei Lavrov said that his country was pursuing military cooperation with Zimbabwe and looking at opportunities in the diamond sector as well as fully implementing a $3 billion joint platinum project near Harare.

Lavrov held meetings with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa and senior government officials and signed an agreement to establish a special economic zone for Russian firms to manufacture goods for export.

"We have also talked about prospects for military and technical cooperation. We have a special group working on this particular subject," Lavrov told reporters through an interpreter.

Western countries, which had traditionally supplied military equipment to Zimbabwe, including fighter jets and vehicles, stopped in 2000 after imposing sanctions on ex-president Robert Mugabe's government over accusations of human rights abuses.

Lavrov's visit is expected to revive the mining venture, which is one of the single biggest investments the southern African nation has seen since independence in 1980.

Zimbabwe has the second largest known deposits of platinum after South Africa and the Darwendale project is considered to be the largest single deposit.

Mnangagwa is desperate to attract foreign investors to kick-start the economy and has promised reforms to safeguard investments. Source: TRTWorld and agencies