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        Asmara High Rise Project 26-30 June, 2004
 Intercontinental Hotel, Asmara, Eritrea

New US ambassador to Eritrea averse to sanctions against Ethiopia


While many Minnesota Eritreans hope that DeLisi will encourage the administration to impose sanctions to pressure Ethiopia to accept the agreement, DeLisi said he will focus on diplomatic solutions.



WASHINGTON, D.C. 5 July 2004 -- Growing up in South St. Paul in the 1950s, Scott DeLisi had no concept of people or politics in the Horn of Africa, where the country of Eritrea would be formed.


But thanks to an intriguing newspaper advertisement, DeLisi is a Foreign Service veteran and the next U.S. ambassador to Eritrea, a fledgling East African nation struggling for stability.


DeLisi, who earned his bachelor's and law degrees from the University of Minnesota, joins an elite list of Minnesotans to move into the ranks of ambassador. In addition to well-known politicians Walter Mondale, who served in Japan, and Karl Rolvaag, who served in Iceland, just six other Minnesotans have been appointed to ambassadorships since 1949. DeLisi was nominated by President Bush in January and confirmed by the Senate in May.


DeLisi, who almost followed his father's footsteps into selling fruits and vegetables, said the "Minnesota values" he learned from his parents have helped him adapt to difficult assignments in Sri Lanka, Botswana and Pakistan. Most recently he was director of the State Department's Office of Southern African Affairs.


Along the way, DeLisi said, he has lost friends in the bombing of the Beirut Embassy in the 1980s, braved an attempted bombing at his own posting at the U.S. consulate in Bombay and also raised three children while moving from place to place nearly every three years.

"Before I left Minnesota . . . I didn't know what I was getting into," DeLisi said.


Although he said he was intrigued by foreign service as an undergraduate, he never followed through with the interest. Then, after working in the produce industry for several years, DeLisi returned to law school and was lured to the foreign service by an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal. Now, he said, he cannot imagine any other career.


"How fascinating to be at the heart of what's going on," said DeLisi, a bearded, soft-spoken man. "You realize that you are at risk, but you have to do this. Someone has to do it."


DeLisi will have his work cut out for him when he arrives in early August in the capital city of Asmara. Eritrea's 13-year independence has been plagued by border disputes, regional conflicts and economic hardships. Even now, the nation of 4 million people is in the thick of a dispute with Ethiopia -- which still has troops along the border, although the countries ended a two-year war in 2000. A drought this spring is also causing major famine. Experts on the region insist that a border agreement is essential to progress.


In 2002, an independent U.N. mission established a border compromise, but the two countries have yet to ratify the agreement. While many Minnesota Eritreans hope that DeLisi will encourage the administration to impose sanctions to pressure Ethiopia to accept the agreement, DeLisi said he will focus on diplomatic solutions.

"We are absolutely unconditional in our support" for the border agreement, DeLisi said. "But this is a process. Let's try to work through the international community."


Regional approach


DeLisi's mission goes beyond the needs of the Eritreans; he will also face political pressures to help facilitate the country's continued support in the war on terror. Eritrea is strategically located along the Red Sea, bordering Sudan, Ethiopia and Djibouti -- unstable countries that are presumed to have terrorists filtering through them. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who met with DeLisi after his nomination, called the country "a key ally in the war on terror."


Even in light of these challenges, DeLisi said his No. 1 priority will be to curb human rights abuses, which hurt the country financially as well. Because Eritrea has what Human Rights Watch describes as a "woeful human rights record," international investment has been dismal and economic growth stunted.


DeLisi, however, said he will focus on small steps. In foreign service, he said, he learned through his experiences in strife-torn Sri Lanka that expecting to make sweeping changes would stand in the way of smaller accomplishments.

"I know that there are people alive in Sri Lanka today that wouldn't be if it weren't for the work of our embassy," DeLisi said. "But there's so much more out there, and that makes it a real challenge."


Although Bush appointed DeLisi late in his term and ambassadors serve at the pleasure of the administration in power. DeLisi said he hopes to complete a full three-year term at the post, which is likely since the assignment is largely apolitical.


Information from: Star Tribune,