Ethiopia today denounced American military maneuvers in the region as encouraging "aggression" by neighboring Somalia and hinted that relations with Washington, already at an all-time low, might be broken.
In an emotional, sometimes bitter interview, Foreign Minister Feleke Gedle-Giorgis said "the sole purpose" of American military maneuvers to be held in Somalia later this month was "to endanger Ethiopia. Indeed, there is no other interpretation."
Feleke and the foreign ministers of Libya and South Yemen held an emergency meeting here today and pressed the Ethiopian complaint in a communique saying the three allied countries would protest the U.S. maneuvers to the United Nations.
The communique described the United States' Bright Star maneuvers, which began last week in Egypt, as "an act of intimidation by the United States and its collaborators in the region." The three countries said they also would take their protest to the Organization of African Unity, the Arab League and the Nonaligned Movement.
The maneuvers have been described by the United States as designed to test the U.S. Rapid Deployment Force in Egypt, Sudan and Oman as well as Somalia.
Feleke said the maneuvers will increase the possibility of renewed warfare between Addis Ababa and Mogadishu, which have fought two major wars and numerous skirmishes in the Horn of Africa in the last two decades. The dispute between the two countries centers on Ethiopia's Ogaden region, which is claimed by Somalia.
He indicated that in the event of another war over the region, Ethiopian forces would cross the Somali border. Somalia has agreed to allow U.S. forces to use military facilities in return for $40 million in defensive military equipment, which has yet to be delivered.
Meanwhile, Somali President Mohammed Siad Barre met Tuesday in Mogadishu with a U.S. military delegation headed by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Francis West, Agence France-Presse reported. The report quoted the official Somali news agency as saying Barre and West "held similar views" on the strengthening of Somali-U.S relations and the security of the Horn of Africa.
The last war, in 1977, resulted in Ethiopia, which has 10 times Somalia's population, moving away from its long-time friendship with the United States to form an alliance with the Soviet Union. Since then Moscow has provided more than $2 billion in weapons.
There are also approximately 11,000 Cuban troops in the country, and the foreign minister said they "will stay as long as Somalia is a threat" to Ethiopia. "The Cubans," he added, "can be here forever."
In a rare interview with an American reporter, Feleke was outspoken in his criticism of the United States and repeated a threat that the U.S. maneuvers had caused Ethiopia to "review the entire premises" of its relationship with Washington.
The implicit threat that relations might be broken was first made in a message over the weekend to U.S. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. Ethiopia's diplomatic offensive against the maneuvers began late last week with an attack by the country's leader, Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, and today's interview apparently was intended to escalate the campaign.
About 250 unarmed U.S. Navy logistics personnel are to be involved in the week-long maneuvers at Berbera, a military air and port facility built by the Soviet Union during a now-ended alliance between Moscow and Mogadishu. It will be the first use of the base by the United States.
Despite the limited scale of the maneuvers, Ethiopia has reason for concern about U.S. support for Somalia, since it is Ethiopia's traditional enemy. Western diplomats note, however, that raising the war issue also diverts domestic attention from Ethiopia's growing economic problems.
U.S.-Ethiopian relations have not been good since the shift to the Soviet Union four years ago. The United States has not had an ambassador here for almost 18 months, and Ethiopia has not had one in Washington for three years.
The atmosphere has deteriorated sharply, however, since Ethiopia joined a tripartite alliance in August with Libya, a major target of the Reagan administration, and South Yemen.
At the United Nations last month Feleke called U.S. actions "sinister" and "arrogant," and elicited a response from U.S. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick likening his tactics to "the big lie."
The Yugoslav-educated Feleke, one of the few Cabinet ministers who did not attend university in the West, today described relations with the United States variously as "chilly," "very cold" and "worse than ever."
In a broad-ranging attack he said the governments of Ethiopia, Libya and South Yemen "are constantly threatened with being overthrown by the United States."
"It is this threat and provocation that necessitated the three countries to work together," he added.
His strongest criticism was aimed at the Bright Star maneuvers, which involve 4,000 troops. "There must be an objective of this massive U.S. military presence," he said. "We don't want to see American soldiers around our borders. This will increase Somali aggression against Ethiopia."
The foreign minister said it was "not important" that the United States so far has not supplied Somalia with promised radar and antiaircraft equipment nor used Berbera, which is on the strategic Gulf of Aden, 100 miles from the Ethiopian border. The intention to use the facility is there, he said.
He rejected the American rationale that the massive Soviet-Cuban military buildup in Ethiopia was a threat to neighboring countries.
Despite frequently expressed Somali concern over the Soviet-Cuban presence, Feleke said, "the Soviets are not a threat against any of the neighboring countries." He added that Somalia had been the aggressor in the war with Ethiopia.
Saying U.S. policy is "bankrupt," he added, "What the Americans fail to understand is that they cannot choose friends for Ethiopia."
He also denied charges of a Soviet military presence in the Dahlak Islands in the Red Sea. "The charge d'affaires of the United States has brought so many pictures here and showed me. They are all lies; they are all pretext," he said with rising emotion.
Diplomatic sources say 25 to 30 Soviet ships, including nuclear submarines and guided-missile cruisers call monthly for maintenance at Nocra Island in the Dahlaks. It is further claimed that about 150 Soviet personnel are based there.
"We have no intention of giving bases to anyone, including the Russians," he said. He acknowledged that Soviet ships call there but denied any maintenance was done and said no Soviet personnel are stationed on the islands.