Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Somali Foreign Minister Muhammad Abdullahi Omar said that the US government is concerned with supporting the interim government in Somalia to eliminate the threat of Al Qaeda and to weaken its ties with what he described as Islamist rebels who seek to overthrow the transitional government that is headed by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to the Somali Foreign Minister on the phone from the Kenyan capital of Nairobi. He recently took part in the meeting that was held between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed that lasted just over an hour.
The interview proceeded as follows:
Q) How did the meeting in Nairobi between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the transitional President Sheikh Sharif go?
A) The meeting was important to show the real intentions of the United States. This is the first time that the president has held a meeting on such a level with such a [high-ranking] US official like Hillary Clinton. We were left with a good impression. The high-ranking people in this meeting needed to meet one another and to establish a personal rapport as well.
Q) Do you believe that this rapport was successful?
Q) Can you explain this?
A) Officials from both sides have now become friends – in the case of President Sheikh Sharif and Hillary Clinton or on the level of my ties with her – we now know one another. When I pick up the phone now, I know the person on the other end, and it’s the same for the president. Therefore, we can now talk about the beginnings of a friendship, thanks to the personal rapport that has so far been successful, and this is an important matter at this stage.
Q) What help do you expect to get?
A) The Americans will provide military aid just as they did in the past and they will provide political support. Just as we all saw, they sent a very strong message to Eritrea warning it to stop its blatant and negative interference in Somalia’s internal affairs. We have the same goals [as the US] that the Shabaab organization, which is linked to Al Qaeda, must not [be allowed to] succeed in implementing its terrorist policies and agenda in Somalia.
On the humanitarian level, the Americans are willing to help us with regards to medicine and healthcare, and provide help in training workers and officials in the transitional authority and you know there are a between 250,000 and 300,000 Somalis living in America, therefore we have an active community over there.
Again, the Americans are willing to help us in every way whether this is with regards to the military, diplomacy, finance, humanitarianism and to social services such as health and education.
Q) Did State Secretary Hillary Clinton demand anything specific in return from you?
A) No she didn’t demand anything. We’re the ones that needed to ask for assistance and we did.
Q) What kind of information did she ask about?
A) She wanted to hear from the president directly his analysis of the current political and military situation in Mogadishu and what was happening regarding the peace process and national reconciliation and specifically about human rights and women. She was particularly interested in these topics because there are many specific cases in which Somali women are suffering. She also asked about the phenomenon of child soldiers within the armed militias in the country.
Q) What about the issue of piracy on the coasts of Somalia?
A) Yes, Hillary Clinton showed a lot of concern for this issue and I can say that we have the same ideas about how to deal with this phenomenon. We believe that a stop must be put to piracy as soon as possible.
They are committed to supporting Somali security forces and they are the main contributors funding the peacekeeping forces of the African Union. They are continuing with this, and they will continue to work on giving our forces and security and military apparatus the ability to assume the task they are entrusted with and they will pay for retraining our forces. They will not take part in this process themselves and they will not send troops to Somalia but they will help regional states and governments whether those of Uganda, Burundi, or Ethiopia, in order to offer us military support and anything we might need.
Q) So there will not be any direct US intervention?
A) Yes, that will not happen. They [the Americans] are talking to regional governments to give us aid and facilities. They will not send any soldiers and there will not be any American military or security experts in Somalia. They will not take part in training on the ground; training will take place in Djibouti. We will get aid with the help of the United States, from a number of governments in the region such as Kenya, Egypt and Uganda. This is the agreement we reached in this context.
Q) What about civil services?
A) Well we have US pledges with regards to providing aid to the government and the nation, and in various fields, whether to establish projects or build schools and hospitals or agricultural projects. There will be major bilateral cooperation in these fields soon.
We’re not talking about billions of dollars; we’re talking about urgent projects. We just need them to be launched and then we can build on them ourselves.
Q) Will Sheikh Sharif be invited to the White House soon?
A) God willing, we hope this will happen. But there is no agreement in this regard, and there are no specific appointments, but of course, this will be our next goal. You must realize that this meeting was the first, and not everything can be achieved in one meeting.
Q) Did Clinton ask you about Al Qaeda?
A) Of course, this was the main topic. We told them that we have over 2000 foreign fighters in Somalia fighting side-by-side with Islamist extremists who are seeking to take over government by force and to overthrow the regime and to attack the legitimacy of the state.
Q) Is there extensive security cooperation in this regard?
A) We hope that with the help of aid and the concern of the international community and of specific countries we can eliminate the threat of those [fighters] in Somalia, and that we can cut all ties between internal organizations and any foreign organization whether it is Al Qaeda or any other organization.