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We often hear when the U.S. or U.N. imposes sanctions on countries to get them to shape up. For the next few minutes, we're going to hear about a country that is getting out from under sanctions. Eritrea is often described as the North Korea of Africa. But U.S. diplomats see some changes in the region, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: The Horn of Africa is now being called the Hope of Africa - at least, that's how the top U.S. diplomat for the continent, Tibor Nagy, sees it.
TIBOR NAGY: It shows you what one courageous, visionary leader can do to impact not only her or his own country, but the region.
KELEMEN: He's talking about the prime minister of Ethiopia, who first started reforms inside his country and then turned to his neighbor Eritrea to end a two-decades-old conflict.
NAGY: Now the waves are kind of washing over other parts of the region. I mean, during my discussions with African leaders, I pointed to Ethiopia as, you know, a - what a positive force can mean for Africa.
KELEMEN: Nagy is heading to Ethiopia and Eritrea in the coming weeks to build on this. And he hopes that Eritrea, having signed that peace deal with Ethiopia, can now come in from out of the cold.
NAGY: This changes the whole tenor and maybe perception narrative on Eritrea as it now basically rejoins the community of nations.
KELEMEN: Eritrea has been dubbed the North Korea of Africa, though Bronwyn Bruton thinks that's unfair. She's the deputy director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank. She acknowledges that Eritrea is an authoritarian government that has a poor human rights record. She's mostly, worried, though that the government isn't ready to seize this opportunity.
BRONWYN BRUTON: After so many years of basically concentrating on battling Ethiopia, I'm concerned that they're not able to pivot now to the economic development that Eritrea desperately needs.
KELEMEN: Bruton also says it will be tough for the U.S. to persuade Eritrea to become democratic.
BRUTON: And it's not made easier by the fact that the main democracies in the world, including the U.K. and the U.S., have basically arranged themselves on the side of Ethiopia at Eritrea's expense.
KELEMEN: Because Ethiopia has been a key security partner in the region. Ethiopia backed the U.N. decision to lift sanctions on Eritrea. And the British ambassador to the U.N., Karen Pierce, says it sends a signal that sanctions can be lifted.
KAREN PIERCE: Sanctions are a means to an end. They are a means to advance progress, political progress, so a means to stop conflict.
KELEMEN: That could be good news for another African nation, Sudan, which has been trying to get off the U.S. State Sponsors Of Terrorism list. Assistant Secretary of State Nagy says the U.S. is talking about that.
NAGY: We are very much engaged with Sudan to move the relationship forward. And hopefully that will happen.
KELEMEN: Activists say this is no time to lift sanctions. And Sudan's president is still wanted on genocide charges for the conflict in Darfur. Nagy says he's realistic. His overall priority on the continent is to promote U.S. investment.
NAGY: I can't order American companies to go to Africa, unlike some other countries' leadership can. I can encourage American companies to go, but the African leadership absolutely has to help me by putting in place environments which are conducive and welcoming to U.S. business.
KELEMEN: Nagy says the U.S. could help countries create much-needed jobs for young Africans. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.
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