NAIROBI, Kenya – In a rebuff to the United States, Somalia's interim president, Abdullahi Yusuf, on Monday rejected U.S. requests to bring moderate Islamists into his weak transitional government.
Negotiations with Islamists "will not happen," he told Al-Jazeera television before flying to Mogadishu, Somalia's lawless seaside capital. "We will crack down on the terrorists in any place around the nation."
Yusuf had indicated the opposite position in meetings in the Kenyan capital over the weekend with assistant U.S. Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer, U.S. officials said.
There was no immediate reaction from U.S. officials, but Yusuf's remarks underscored the difficulties that Western governments face as they try to shore up Somalia's fragile regime after Ethiopian troops ousted Somalia's Islamist rulers last month.
Frazer, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, had said late Sunday in Nairobi that Yusuf's government, which was formed by an international conference in 2004 and has never controlled Mogadishu, needed to bring moderate Islamists into the regime.
"I support reaching out to the … Islamic Courts," Frazer said. "We see a role in the future of Somalia for all who renounce violence and extremism."
The message signaled a more conciliatory U.S. stance on the Islamic Courts movement, which had seized Mogadishu in June from U.S.-backed warlords. Initially U.S. officials based in Kenya had some contact with moderates within the movement, including Sheik Sherif Ahmed, a geography teacher who emerged as their leader.
But Ahmed soon was edged out by hard-liners, led by suspected al-Qaida operative Hassan Dahir Aweys, who laid claims to territory in neighboring countries and called for jihad against Ethiopia. Frazer made a series of statements starting in November claiming that al-Qaida terrorists had overrun the courts movement.
The Islamists' ouster left a power vacuum in Mogadishu, where the transitional government has little support. The city's powerful Hawiye clan accuses Yusuf, who's of a rival clan, of being a puppet of Ethiopia.
The U.S. has pledged $40 million in new aid to Somalia, including $14 million to support a proposed African peacekeeping mission. Frazer said the money wasn't conditional on the transitional government negotiating with the Islamists.