The top U.S. diplomat for Africa faced a revealing question at a press conference in Uganda that exposed African suspicions about the American role in Somalia, a failed state threatened by Muslim terrorists loyal to al Qaeda and plagued with pirates who attack ships in the Indian Ocean.
"The conflict in Somalia seems to have been perceived as a war being fought on behalf of America and against Islam. How are you engaging influential Muslim countries to resolve the conflict?" a reporter asked after an African Union summit in the capital, Kampala, last week.
Johnnie Carson, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, showed his vast diplomatic skills as he fielded the loaded question.
"We don't see this as a U.S. conflict, whatsoever," he said. "This is a problem for the international community. This is not, and should not be, where the U.S. is regarded as the villain."
Some suspicions about U.S. motives in Somalia likely date to the 1993 battle of Mogadishu, popularized in the film "Black Hawk Down." Eighteen highly trained American soldiers died and dozens more were wounded in an attempt to capture warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid or his top aides. At least 1,000 Somali militia men and civilians were killed.
Mr. Carson pledged U.S. financial support for African leaders, who agreed to send 2,000 more troops from Uganda and Burundi to reinforce the 6,000 soldiers already trying to help the interim government of Somalia in its desperate bid to maintain some form of order in the East African nation.
"Somalia is a problem on three dimensions and levels," he added, according to a transcript of the press conference provided by Uganda's Daily Monitor newspaper.
He cited "a domestic problem of an imploded state," vast numbers of refugees burdening other nations in the region, and pirates and "violent extremists," a reference to al-Shabab terrorists who claimed responsibility for bombings in Kampala during the World Cup last month.
"Somalia is a country that requires enormous development assistance and political aid to restore it to a place that is both manageable, peaceful and working normally," Mr. Carson said.
Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:
• Arvin Boolell, minister of foreign affairs, regional integration and international trade of Mauritius; Sir J.I.A. Arumemi Ikhide Johnson, executive chairman of Arik Airlines of Nigeria; Amos Muhinga Kimunya, trade minister of Kenya; Monique Nsanzabaganwa, minister of trade and industry of Rwanda; Tswelopele Cornelia Moremi, executive secretary of the Southern African Customs Union; and Sindiso Ngwenya, secretary general of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. They are among the speakers at a two-day forum marking the 10th anniversary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.
• Shin-Yuan Lai, Taiwan's minister for the Mainland Affairs Council. He addresses the American Enterprise Institute on the future of Taiwanese-Chinese relations after the signing last month of a free-trade framework.
• Retired Vice Adm. P.S. Das, former commander in chief of the eastern naval command of the Indian navy; Jamshyd N. Godrej, chairman and managing director of India's Godrej & Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd.; C. Raja Mohan, strategic affairs editor of the Indian Express; Ambassador Jayant Prasad, special secretary for public diplomacy at the Indian Foreign Ministry of External Affairs and former Indian ambassador to Afghanistan; and Ambassador Ronen Sen, former Indian ambassador to the United States. They discuss India's policies in Asia in a forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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