WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden will host Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for a meeting in Washington on Thursday as the White House weighs sanctions against parties to the conflict in a northern region of the neighboring East African country of Ethiopia.
The meeting at the White House will mark Biden’s first as president with an African leader.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement that the two would discuss “efforts to defend democracy and human rights, advance peace and security, accelerate economic growth, and tackle climate change.”
Kenya holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month. The United States and Kenya have long cooperated on economic and security initiatives including counterterrorism.
The Biden administration is considering punitive action regarding the worsening crisis in northern Ethiopia, where thousands have been killed and millions are in need of humanitarian assistance.
Ethiopia’s national army launched a ground offensive against forces from the region of Tigray on Monday, the region’s ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said.
Fighting broke out in November 2020 between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the TPLF.
The conflict has made about 5.2 million people in Tigray – more than 90% of the population – and 1.7 million people in other regions dependent on food aid. The United Nations blames a government blockade for the deteriorating humanitarian situation. The government denies it is blocking aid.
Last month, Biden signed an executive order paving the way for possible sanctions, including against the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, if they play a role in prolonging the conflict, obstructing humanitarian access or committing serious human rights abuse.
The White House also said Biden and Kenyatta would discuss “the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems.”
Kenyatta’s name appeared earlier this month in the “Pandora Papers” leak of what major news outlets called a secret trove of documents detailing what they said were efforts by many global leaders to stockpile money in tax havens.
Kenyatta has not responded to the allegations but has said he would do so later.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt and Tyler Clifford; Editing by Chris Reese and Peter Cooney)