In the 1970s, besides the Somali aggression against Ethiopia, another concern of the US was the secessionist movement in Ethiopia’s province of Eritrea. According to the Carter Doctrine, the US policy was to refrain from military involvement in the internal affairs of another country. Military involvement, however, was justified if US security was at stake. The interpretation of this policy seems to be open-ended, as defining US security remains at the discretion of the president and the US Congress. In the 1970s, when the Eritrean secessionists received support from Arab countries and the military regime in Ethiopia received Soviet military equipment and advisors, the White House opted not to become directly involved in Ethiopia’s internal affairs.
US officials had repeatedly stated that the US policy in Ethiopia, in the 1970s, was to respect the territorial integrity of Ethiopia and to support the goal of a negotiated settlement in Eritrea — leading to a federal arrangement similar to what had been implemented earlier by the UN in 1952. Conservative regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, during the reign of Shah Palavi, also believed in Ethiopia as a viable nation-state and wished to see a united Ethiopia that would contribute to regional stability. It was in the interest of conservative Saudi Arabia to have a neighbor that radical Arab countries could not control.
Eritrea’s secessionist organization, the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) under the leadership of Issayas Afewerki, reached dominance after routing the predominantly Muslim-dominated Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF). The ELF was supported by radical Arab states such as Iraq and this concerned the conservative leaders of Saudi Arabia and some Ethiopians. Later, the governor of the province of Eritrea, Ras Assrate Kassa, allegedly supported Issayas Afewerki, a Christian highland Erirean who has a strong pro-Ethiopia family background. Both his parents come from the Ethiopian province of Tigre. Issayas Afewerki’s uncle, Dejazmach Solomon Abraham, was the governor of Wollo province and Issayas had stayed with his uncle and attended high school in Dessie, the capital of Wollo, prior to attending engineering college in Addis Ababa.