Ethiopia and the US have had a long and valuable relationship going back to 1903 when the first US ambassador arrived in Addis Ababa to present his credentials to the Emperor Minelik, though at a people-to-people level relations were much older. There have of course been occasional hiccups and sometimes more. Certainly relations during the Derg's military dictatorship between 1974 and 1991 were poor but this was an aberration. Ambassadorial relations were restored in 1992 and, indeed since the EPRDF took power, relations have been normal, and usually warm, for the last nineteen years.
In fact, since the early 1990s, Ethiopia and the US have largely maintained more or less effective co-operation in matters of security though the relationship hasn't been as close as some critics have tried to suggest. Ethiopia has never been a US "poodle". It has always acted in accordance with its own national interests, interests which have not been inconsistent with US regional interests. They have sometimes differed. However, that the position of the US on the one hand and of Ethiopia and IGAD countries on Somalia, and on security in the Horn of Africa, for example, coincides was made very clear once again at the meeting on the sidelines of the Kampala Summit. Equally, Ethiopia's commitment to the eradication of poverty with emphasis on sustainable development, good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights for both Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa are commitments that we certainly share with the United States.
Naturally, no relationship is static, nor should it be. It can be expected that in the next few years, economic links and development issues are going to become even more important than they are today in connections between the two countries. One of the central elements of Ethiopia's foreign policy today is working towards the successful achievement of the country's objectives in the economic sphere. The US has been extremely generous in the provision of its valuable humanitarian and social sector assistance. Ethiopia is, and will remain, deeply grateful for all its aid and assistance. But while assistance to Ethiopia in these critical areas has been admirable, the US has stayed aloof from assistance in structural projects in development in the last decades. Its role in infrastructure, for example, has been limited. These are areas which are going to be among the most important in shaping the country's future over the next decades. We believe it is indisputable that laying the foundation of strong ties between our two countries over the next decades will also be in the interest of the US.
At another extreme there have been claims suggesting there are continuous and serious problems between the two countries. This too is an exaggeration. The truth, as might be expected, lies somewhere between. Equally, there should be no complacency over the amount of activity that needs to be carried out to keep the relationship on an even keel. In other words, as with any mutually beneficial relationship, both parties will always need to work at the relationship. This is normal. There have been irritants on both sides and some will no doubt continue. One is the reporting of the Amharic Service of the Voice of America which has caused real concern to Ethiopia over several years. A number of detailed complaints have had little apparent effect. Similarly, ill-founded comments from legislators, sometimes linked to opposition groups, can cause concern. There have been times when some Congressmen have been outspoken critics of politics in Ethiopia despite displaying a significant lack of knowledge of events. As we mentioned above, the latest draft bill from Senators Feingold and Leahy is a surprising example of slapdash work, failing to note a number of recent developments, and we would suggest ignoring far more serious actual and potential dangers to international peace and security in the Horn of Africa. This is hardly something that assists the building of mutual confidence in a successful US-Ethiopia relationship. It is disappointing to find two such experienced and capable Senators responsible for such a performance.
Of course loose language, on either side, always poses the danger that it might undermine confidence or weaken the trust of both parties in sustainable links. There have been statements by US authorities which might, or indeed have, created misunderstandings. As Prime Minister Meles said "There are issues on which officials in the US feel strongly and differently and there are issues on which we feel strongly and differently from those of the United States". Referring to what he called "the rather difficult stretch we have had in the past six or seven months [being] by and large behind us", he added "We will agree to disagree on those issues we do not agree on, and we agree to work together on issues of common interest." There is, in fact, always a need for both sides to treat their relationship with care. Certainly, it is something to which Ethiopia is unfailingly committed because it significantly values the association.
Ethiopia is changing and changing fast. Its role in the Inter-Governmental Authority for Development (IGAD), as in the region of the Horn of Africa, in Eastern Africa and in Africa in general is continuing to grow. This is not self-congratulatory, but realistic. It is something that is becoming apparent in the pro-active role that Ethiopia has been playing in the AU on a number of issues including climate change. All this is commensurate with Ethiopia's steady progress in the economic area and in development. Following seven years of double digit growth, Ethiopia has realistic hopes to become a middle income country in the next decade or so. It will achieve many, if not all, of the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.
The relationship between the US and Ethiopia is based on mutual benefit and, we believe it should also be based on mutual respect. Given its value, we would also emphasize that a realistic and accurate evaluation of progress in Ethiopia is in the interests of both countries. Despite the apparent views of Senator Feingold, Ethiopia, we should emphasize once again, is a stable and democratic country. It is involved in a series of major political and economic changes in developing its nine-state federal democracy. Certainly, this may still be a work in progress, and many developments have yet to fulfill their potential but that potential is clearly there. We believe that this needs to be taken into consideration in any evaluation of the relationship between the US and Ethiopia. Indeed, how Ethiopia is developing and how this should be evaluated is surely relevant to US national interests in this region of Africa and more widely. It is this that must underpin any relationship that is based on the twin pillars of mutual respect and mutual benefit.