The Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher may seem like an unlikely supporter of the Eritrean government’s cause, but there’s no denying that he’s consistent.
This week he sent a letter to US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, calling for an improvement in relations with Eritrea and the resumption of military ties with the country. rohrabacher_Letter_Pompeo_-Eritrea
The letter, dated 26th April, argues that:
“Eritrea defeated the Stalinist dictatorship ruling Ethiopia to gain independence in 1991. Eritrea is a key member of the coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE fighting against the Iranian backed Houthis in Yemen. Eritrea has excellent relations with Israel, UAE and Egypt. Cooperation with Eritrea to address the growing Chinese influence in the region, including their new military base in Djibouti and the ongoing fight against Islam makes sense.”
Congressman Rohrabacher is something of an oddball. A former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, he is now seen as so strongly pro-Russian that he is said to have a Kremlin code-name, signifying that he is viewed as a valuable potential asset by Russian intelligence.
But he is also a man of some influence. He is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats.
Congressman Rohrabacher has close ties with one of the key people the Eritrean regime uses to woo persons of influence. The Eritrean government hired Greenberg Traurig, a law firm that includes a lobbying team headed by Jack Abramoff.
Their services didn’t come cheap. Greenberg Traurig’s contract with Eritrea, filed under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, meant the country was paying Greenberg Traurig $50,000 a month for helping “in implementing its public policy goals in Washington.”
As long ago as 2005 the New York Times revealed the links between Abramoff and Rohrabacher.
“Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican who said he had been friends with Mr. Abramoff for two decades and did not shy away from his hospitality.Mr. Rohrabacher, whose name bears the “FOO Comp” designation on the customer list, said he ate at Signatures at Mr. Abramoff’s expense once or twice a month and that the meals fell under the friendship exemption in House rules. He also said he tried to take Mr. Abramoff out regularly, paying for the lobbyist’s meals in return. “Just because you are a member of Congress doesn’t mean you have to give up your friendships,” Mr. Rohrabacher said, adding that “it was dinner with a friend and I didn’t think of it as a gift.”
In 2006 Abramoff pleaded guilty to bribing U.S. government officials in an unrelated case and was jailed for four years. He recently returned to lobbying, according to documents he filed with the Justice Department.
For his part, Congressman Rohrabacher has certainly been consistent in arguing for a pro-Eritrean government position.
- In 2005, he argued in Congress for the State Department to take a more favourable view of Eritrea.
- In July 2017 Rohrabacher proposed an amendment to the U.S. Department of Defense budget that would prompt Defense Secretary James Mattis to open negotiations with Eritrea on fighting terrorism.
- In August 2017 he called for an end to sanctions against Eritrea and better ties with the country suggesting that America should follow the lead of others: “Multiple operations have been launched from Eritrean soil. Eritrean troops reportedly are involved in military operations inside Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have indicated they welcome and value Eritrea’s participation. Egypt and Eritrea have greatly strengthened their already close ties in recent months, and Israel has cooperated with Eritrea for years.”
So will Rohrabacher succeed? Will this weeks visit to the Horn by top US African diplomat, Donald Yamamoto lead to an ending of UN sanctions against Eritrea and even a US military base in the country?
We should know fairly soon. But perhaps Congressman Rohrabacher will have other things on his mind. He is facing re-election and right now the prospects are not too good.
Perhaps President Isaias and the Eritrean government need to think about finding a new American best friend.