The Obama administration on Thursday officially recognized the government of Somalia, opening formal diplomatic ties between Washington and Mogadishu for the first time since 1991.
"The recognition of the Somali government by the United States is a turning point," Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"I would like to say to you: 'Thank you, America!'" he added.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Mohamud met President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Somalia has the chance to write a new chapter," said Mrs. Clinton.
Mr. Mohamud was elected president by Somalia's newly formed parliament in September of 2012.
The U.S. recognition of the Somali government is, in part, an acknowledgement of its success in the fight against al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based Islamist militant group affiliated with al Qaeda.
Al-Shabaab has not been eliminated, but it no longer controls Somalia's major cities. Four years ago, the militants controlled most of the capital Mogadishu, and south and central Somalia.
"Our forces and [African Union troops] are making huge progress" against al-Shabaab, which "gives us hope that al-Shabaab is defeated," Mr. Mohamud said. "However, the threats remain the same as they still continue to carry out suicide bombings, roadside bombing, targeted assassinations and guerilla urban warfare tactics."
On Thursday, al-Shabaab militants said that they had executed Denis Allex, a French intelligence officer who had been taken hostage in July of 2009. The militants said they killed Mr. Allex in retaliation to a botched French military raid to rescue him last weekend.
Warlords overthrew the President Mohamed Siad Barre's government in 1991 opening a period of two decades of conflict and instability in Somalia. The U.S. intervention ended in 1993 after Somali militants shot down two Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 U.S. soldiers on Oct. 3.
"We are a long way from where we were on October 3, 1993, when Black Hawk Down occurred in Mogadishu," Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, said on Wednesday.
Mr. Mohamud's visit to Washington represents "a significant change in the security and political situation on the ground in Somalia and our relationship with that country," he added.
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