In testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, rattled the sanctions saber against Eritrea, saying that the Eritrean government had only a “short window of time” to improve its relationship with the United States or be subject to sanctions. Rice did not specify what sanctions she had in mind.
The U.S. has accused Eritrea for quite some time of supporting Al-Qaeda linked groups in neighboring Somalia. Based on these allegations, the U.S. imposed an arms embargo in October 2008. That embargo was largely symbolic because in the prior year no military sales had been made from the United States to Eritrea.
If the United States unilaterally attempts to impose restrictions on imports and exports to Eritrea, these restrictions are likely to be just as symbolic as the arms embargo. In 2008, U.S. exports to Eritrea totaled just under $15 million, which is about 3% of Eritrea’s annual estimated imports of approximately $500 million. U.S. imports from Eritrea are even less significant, coming in at a whopping $129,000 in 2008. And whether or not the U.S. could enlist the U.N. or other countries in imposing new sanctions remains to be seen.