However, Meles also tried to curb dissent in his own country, a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said.
Victoria Nuland said the U.S. government hopes Meles' successor will pay more attention to human rights, Voice of America reported.
"We have not been shy about expressing concern where it is necessary, particularly with regard to journalists' freedom, human rights, etc.," Nuland said. "So you will note that there is a reference to that in the public statements that we're making today, and we would always look for further improvements that can strengthen the system and support for people across Ethiopia."
Princeton Lyman, the U.S. special envoy for Sudan and South Sudan, said Meles' death could be a setback for peace efforts there.
"He was always a source of great counsel, wisdom," Lyman said. "But he also played a very dramatic role in helping bring about stability in Sudan and South Sudan, most particularly in providing peacekeepers to the troubled area of Abyeh."
Christopher Fomunyoh, the Africa expert at the National Democratic Institute, said Meles played an important role in Somalia.
"You have Somalia which is a failed state in the East, Sudan, which for many years was in the state of civil war, so Ethiopia became the anchor in that part of the African continent. I think the (United States) is going to look for ways to maintain this relationship with Meles' replacement," he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton released a statement praising Meles' efforts to expand healthcare and education in Ethiopia.