Sunday, August 09, 2009

Secretary Hillary Clinton meets with Somali President Sheik Ahmed

On August 6th, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived at the U.S. Embassy with U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael E. Ranneberger and an entourage of staff, incluing Huma, behind her, in Nairobi, Kenya.

She was here to meet with Somali President Sheik Ahmed followed by a joint press conference.

This was a groundbreaking move by the Secretary. I guess it is important to know some background on the Somalia situation. I'll use this clip from a great article on Secretary Clinton over at The Daily Beast to explain:

In Somalia three years ago, under Bush, the U.S. backed an invasion by neighboring Ethiopia, which ousted a popular Islamist government headed by Somali President Sheik Ahmed. America was then looking—and in the right place, it turned out—for three suspected al Qaeda members, but the fallout of that invasion was that it created a popular militant insurgency, the very enemy America was seeking to defeat. As Somalis put it: In the hopes of getting three bad guys, you supported the attack of 7 million people? Bad math.

It’s true that the U.S. initiated low-level talks before Barack Obama took office. But people who have urged such a high-level meeting in the past have been scoffed at as idealists, or simply idiots. Clinton’s choice to meet Sheikh Sharif not only will lend him the tremendous legitimacy he needs to try to bring peace to his country, it’s also a very smart move of trying to separate friends from foes, and not letting the foes borrow the too-easy banner of religion to mask an increasingly brutal insurgency. Now, thanks to this meeting, it’s indisputable that the U.S. is willing to work with those who want an Islamic state in Somalia. That will be hard for the militant thugs to spin on the sandy streets of Mogadishu. It is a major step forward.

So as you can see, this meeting was very important and as I am hearing in a lot of other articles, a step in the right direction.

Another important point to note, is while meeting with the President, Secretary Clinton also pledged to expand American support for Somalia's weak interim government and threatened sanctions against neighboring Eritrea for aiding an extremist group she says is trying to launch worldwide terrorist attacks from Somalia.

She said the Obama administration would boost military supplies and other aid to the Somali government and an African peacekeeping force supporting it but without going into too many details.

She warned Eritrea, accused by the U.S. of supporting the extremist Somali militia known as al-Shabab, that it would face penalties if it continues to supply the group with arms and funding.

"It is long past time for Eritrea to cease and desist its support for al-Shabab... We are making it very clear that their actions are unacceptable. We intend to take action if they do not cease."
The Secretary also noted the recent arrests of four men allegedly linked to al-Shabab who are suspected of plotting attacks in Australia saying that the U.S. is concerned that "al-Shabab not only uses foreign fighters and foreign money but foreign ideas in its attack on the people of Somalia... There is also no doubt that al-Shabab wants to take control of Somalia and use it as a base from which to influence and even infiltrate surrounding countries and launch attacks against countries far and near." Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed agreed saying, "Their aim is to make Somalia a ground to destabilize the whole world... We cannot suffer any longer. The people of Somalia have a right to peace."

Robert Wood over at State added, during his press briefing, that Eritrea was providing weapons and other support to al-Shabab "and we want them to stop." Describing Secretary Clinton as "frustrated with what they are doing."

Clinton also said that she and President Barack Obama "want to expand and extend our support." Also nothing that the U.S. had given nearly $150 million to support the peacekeeping operation in Somalia over the past two years and said more money would be coming.

Read the an excerpt of her remarks here or watch a clip from the State Department below:

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