Terrorism on Agenda as Ethiopia Welcomes President Obama for Historic Trip

Pres. Obama kicked off his first full day in Ethiopia during his historic trip.

Obama arrived on Monday morning at the National Palace in Addis Ababa, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. The two men shook hands and exchanged pleasantries in the sunlit courtyard, where the Ethiopians had prepared an elaborate arrival ceremony.

The leaders stood at attention in front of their delegations while the American then Ethiopian national anthems were played. On either side of the palace stood enormous portraits of both leaders.

The president was then led by an officer, upright sword in hand, to inspect the honor guard. He walked on a square red carpet past rows of Ethiopian troops as ceremonial cannons fired in the distance.

The two sides then held a bilateral meeting, sitting across from each other at an elegantly set table complete with dozens of red roses.

Obama also met with Ethiopia’s president Mulatu Teshome. Although he’s technically the head of state, the Ethiopian presidency is mainly a ceremonial position.

After his meetings, the president held a press conference with Desalegn, during which they expressed continued cooperation between their countries on trade and economic partnership, counter-terrorism and intelligence, and democratization. Terrorism was an especially pertinent topic after a deadly bombing in neighboring Somalia killed 15 people Sunday.

"Yesterday's bombing in Mogadishu reminds us that terrorist groups like al-Shabaab offer nothing but death and destruction and have to be stopped," said Obama, calling the mix of U.S. assistance and regional and African Union forces fighting the group a "model" and Ethiopia, an "outstanding partner."

"We have to now keep the pressure on," he said.

Obama and the prime minister also discussed freedom of the press. Ethiopia has been criticized for jailing journalists and stifling opposition. In its most recent election, the ruling party won 100 percent of the vote, causing some to question the result's legitimacy.

"I don’t bite my tongue too much when it comes to these issues," said Obama, saying that the two had a "frank discussion" about the improvements that Ethiopia needs to make while noting their progress so far.

South Sudan has also been a focus of the president's trip. He met with regional leaders to discuss the ongoing crisis there that has killed thousands of people, displaced over a million and pushed the country to the brink of famine. The group agreed the two parties in South Sudan must reach a peace plan agreement by Aug. 17, but they differed on what steps to take if they did not.

South Sudan is the world's newest nation, after it voted to break away from Sudan in 2011 in a referendum supported by the U.S. -- one reason America has a "special responsibility" to stabilize the country, said Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes.

The president also came face-to-face with a 3.2 million-year-old piece of history at the National Palace.

He viewed -- and even touched -- the skeleton of "Lucy," the female Australopithecus afarensis discovered by an American anthropologist in Ethiopia in 1974. Lucy is an early hominin, the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor discovered to date, and one of the most significant breakthroughs in the study of early humans.

Obama was given rare access to the skeleton; Ethiopian officials and scientists said they could not recall a time the bones were displayed uncovered, let alone touched by a visitor.

"Extraordinary people have extraordinary access," said Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged, an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist and head of the California Academy of Sciences.

After his stop with Lucy, the president attended a State Dinner with Prime Minister Desalegn and President Teshome, where he toasted to "another century of friendship" between the two countries and highlighted Ethiopia's most important gift to the world: coffee.

"We're large consumers of coffee in the White House," he said. "Thank you, Ethiopia."

There was even a rainbow on the tarmac as the president arrived Sunday evening.

Obama is set to address the African Union tomorrow, the first U.S. president to do so.

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