The State Department announced yesterday that representatives of the United States and four European allies will meet here today to discuss possible actions to bring about a peaceful solution to the escalating conflict in the Horn of Africa.
The border war in the Ogaden region between Ethiopian and Somali troops has taken on the potential for an East-West confrontation in recent months. The Soviet Union has sent in massive amounts of arms to Ethiopia, and increasing numbers of Cuban and Soviet troops have been arriving in Addis Ababa, despite U.S. warnings against such actions.
There have been numerous reports that the Ethiopia military, with the aid of Cuban troops, is planning a counteroffersive to recapture most of the area, about the size of Oregon, from Somali forces.
Ironically, the United States, which has said it wants to refrain from any direct involvement in the crisis, has come in for increasing criticism from both Ethiopia and Somalia.
Ethiopian Ambassador Ayalew Mandefro charged at a press conference here yesterday that the United States is supporting "Somali aggression" by failing to condemn it and that continuation of such a policy "might lead to Ethiopia breaking relations with the United States."
Somali Ambassador Abdullahi Abdou on Wednesday criticized the United States for not coming to Somalia's aid with weapons to counter-balance the estimated $800 million in arms the Soviet Union has poured into Ethiopia.
The United States has repeatly turned down the Somali request, the latest rejection coming yesterday from State Department spokesman John Trattner, who announced today's five-power meeting.
Trattner said Richard M. Moose, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, will meet with his counterparts from Britain , France, West Germany and Italy, all former colonial powers in Africa.
Somalia has called for a negotiated settlement but Ethiopia refuses to have any talks as long as Somali forces occupy its territory.
Somali and Ethiopian differences over the region, mainly inhabited by ethnic Somalis, go back almost a century, but the roles of the big powers have shifted radically in recent months.
Ethiopia, Africa's biggest recipient of U.S. aid over the last quarter century, is now being supplied by the Soviet Union, which until last year ranked Somalia as its closest ally in Africa.
These abrupt shifts made for some ironic twists in the mini-war of words the Ethiopian and Somali embassies have carried out the last two days.
Somalia's Addou likened the alleged plans for a Soviet-backed offensive against his country to Moscow's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Ethiopia's Ayalew criticized Somalia's ethnic claims to the Ogaden as a "Nazi-like philosophy," bringing up images of Czechoslovakia at an earlier time - Hitler's 1939 invasion.
Just a few years ago it is likely that the two countries would have used reverse ideological images.