Briefing on Somalia Contact Group MeetingJendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs
Remarks at start of Daily Press Briefing
June 16, 2006
12:50 p.m. EDT
MR. ERELI: Hello, everybody. Glad to see you. Assistant Secretary and Spokesman Sean McCormack will be out shortly. We thought we'd start off today's briefing with a readout from our Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer of the Somalia Contact Group meeting yesterday where Assistant Secretary Frazer was representing the United States. She'll give you a little bit of a readout from that meeting, then be available to answer a couple of your questions before we start the regular briefing with Spokesman McCormick, so Assistant Secretary Frazer.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Thank you, Adam.
As you know, we held the inaugural International Somalia Contact Group meeting yesterday in New York. We held the meeting at the mission, the Norway's mission. They're the lead country to develop this Contact Group. The purpose of it is to coordinate our policy on Somalia so that we can support the Transitional Federal Institutions. We can achieve our objectives of bringing assistance to the people of Somalia, social, economic development and humanitarian assistance, so that we can also work with Somali parties to prevent the country becoming, or stop the country as a haven of terrorism and instability in the region and in Somalia itself. And especially our message at this point in time is that the Transitional Federal Institutions and the Islamic Court Union, which you know has sort of moved from its presence in Mogadishu to other towns like Jowhar in Somalia, that the two entities should come together in a dialogue for peace and stability and development in Somalia.
The attendees at the inaugural meeting were Norway, the U.S., the UK, Tanzania, Sweden, Italy, the European Union, representatives from the African Union, representatives from the United Nations, including Jan Egland and Francois Fall, who's the SRSG for Somalia. I think that the inaugural meeting put us in -- was a very good start in terms of sharing information about what is a very dynamic situation right now in Somalia. And also starting to develop a way ahead in terms of the coordination of our policy to achieve those four objectives: support for the TFI, support for aid to the people of Somalia, support for our efforts to prevent terrorists -- terror action from Somalia and in Somalia, and to support regional stabilization throughout the region.
So I'm open for any questions that you might have. Yes.
QUESTION: I was going to --
QUESTION: Do you anticipate the Islamic Courts playing a sort of central role in the transitional government or the transitional government sort of moving towards becoming more of a government of national unity? And also, do you intend soon to reply to the second letter that they have written to the United States trying to assure you that their goals are noble?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, as we've said, the situation is very dynamic and we have to reserve judgment about what the ultimate intent of the Islamic Court Union is in this phase. What we have pushed for and that the message, as I said, that came out of the International Somali Contact Group is that it's critically important for the TFI and the chairman of the ICU to begin a dialogue to then decide for themselves what role the ICU would play. The first letter, as you know, stated that they were not interested in taking over government or even being in government, but you know, it's a dynamic, fluid circumstance and that will really be the product of the Somali people's decision, particularly as represented through that dialogue that the Contact Group is asking for and urging.
QUESTION: This is a classic failed state, at least so far, and the Secretary has been talking for some time, and so did Secretary Powell, about the imperative of preventing failed states from being a staging area for terrorists. There are those who would say that you're getting a late start on Somalia. What would you say to those who contend that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, as you said, Somalia is probably a very unique situation in the world. It's probably -- as you say, it's the classic failed state. It may be even the only failed state, real failed state where there is not any form of a government except for the Transitional Federal Institutions, which are just taking up their place in Somalia. They were based in Kenya, as you know. So it is very complex, very difficult.
What I would say is that we're not getting a late start in Somalia. We have been engaged. The international community has been engaged. What this new initiative does is tries to coordinate that engagement so that it's much more effective, particularly effective insofar as supporting the Transitional Federal Institutions which have now actually met. Their parliament has held a session. They're in Baidoa. I think they're looking to get to Mogadishu. But we have an entity in those existing institutions to start mobilizing international support and assistance through and for and with.
So I think that, you know, we've been providing humanitarian assistance. Last year we spent about 85 million, over 85 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Somalia. We certainly have been not in the lead but we've been supportive of the regional states and the United Nations, which has been in the lead on negotiating between the various parties and clans to create the Transitional Federal Charter and then the institutions that grow out of them. We've been a part of that process all along.
And certainly, as you know, our counterterrorism objectives have been twofold: One, we need to work to deal with the East Africa al-Qaida operatives who were responsible for bombing our embassies in Kenya and in Tanzania and for the attack on the hotel in Mombassa -- Haroon Fazul, Saleh Nabhan and Talha al-Sudani -- really trying to make sure that Somalia doesn't remain a safe haven for them; but also building the capability of the states in the region: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and others to build a network to establish the capacity to monitor their borders, immigration control, to share information and to prevent this type of al-Qaida cell from taking root across the region as a whole.
MR. ERELI: Teri.
QUESTION: How does the U.S. view the Islamic Court Union now and are they going to be considered a partner for negotiation in this? And how has the U.S. done diligence on the group to make sure that there aren't extremists, that there aren't any -- that there aren't people advocating solely violence as a way forward?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, as I said, we are reserving judgment about the Islamic Court Union. You certainly can't make a judgment based on two letters. They're signaling to us their intent to work in the context of the priorities set by the international community; that is, preventing terrorism, supporting stability, working with the Transitional Federal Institutions. But we will have to make a true judgment by their actual actions.
As I said, the Islamic Court Union is a heterogeneous group and so it's very likely that there are elements within it that may be more extremist and others that are more moderate, so we will have to see how they negotiate with the Transitional Federal Institutions. I was asked earlier about the U.S. responding to the second letter and what we, as an International Somali Contact Group, said was it's not important their dialogue with us. What's important is their dialogue with the Transitional Federal Institutions. It's their dialogue with the clan leaders. It's their dialogue with civil society that matters.
The TFI needs to be the mechanism for organizing and coordinating an inclusive dialogue with all elements of the Somali polity, you know, or the Somali society, I should say.
MR. ERELI: Elise.
QUESTION: Some of your partners in the Contact Group going into the meeting have expressed a lot of unease on your focus on the counterterrorism aspect of Somalia in the last year or so and are really pushing a more, kind of, wide and comprehensive approach. Would you say that while you talk about these four pillars, is this a shift from really focusing on the counterterrorism, in the United States' view, to building up those institutions? And what specifically are you going to do to engage these groups together? As you know, the TFI, while you're pushing this as the major mechanism, doesn't have a whole lot of legitimacy and a whole lot of power right now in the country, so why are you focusing on them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, I should say our objectives and our policy to Somalia has always been integrated and all four of those elements are interrelated. Certainly, stability in the region is important to preventing terrorist attacks. Clearly, counterterrorism has to remain a core interest of the United States. It's one of our global priorities and we've actually been hit in East Africa by terrorists who are now residing in Mogadishu. And so it's the responsibility of America to protect its citizens and to work with neighboring countries to protect their citizens. There was a time in 1989 when people said there's no terror threat in Africa. We learned dramatically that that's not the case. And so the pursuit of dealing with an al-Qaida East Africa cell, as represented by these individuals in Somalia, is an international priority and I think that that was affirmed by the Somali working group, the Contact Group yesterday.
MR. ERELI: There's time for a couple more. Jon.
QUESTION: You make no mention of the warlords.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Yes.
QUESTION: Do you see them finished as a political force, a military force? And also now would you concede that it was a mistake for the U.S. to back them, if that's the case?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: I have to say that who's a warlord and who's not a warlord is a very fluid thing in Somalia. And I think that what we need to do is to, you know, we were told that the Transitional Federal Institutions, it was just said that it's somewhat a weak institution. That's certainly the case. And the reason why we continue to back the Transitional Federal Institution as the key entity is because it's the product of the United Nations, the IGAD community and the international communities work through negotiations over years. I mean, so we're trying to back that entity.
And I raise that because you know that now people are saying, well, some of the warlords were a part -- were ministers in the TFI and were leaders in their community. So this entity, the TFI, has to become an inclusive mechanism. It needs to reach out to all of the clans. It needs to reach out to all of the leadership. It will be a mistake to suggest that somehow the Islamic Courts Union or even a TFI have replaced the clan base of Somali society and the importance of clan leaders and clan elders or, for that matter, civil society. It's a very dynamic -- it's -- there's no state as such and so it's very dynamic in terms of where the power center exists at any one moment in time. What we're saying is that all elements need to engage in a dialogue: the clans, all the clans; the Islamic Courts, which were set up to fill a gap in terms of providing social services to communities, providing some degree of order, rule of law; as well as the Transitional Federal Institutions, which is an international and Somali legitimate existing institutions for reestablishing the state.
MR. ERELI: All right, one more question. Or we'll do two more. David.
QUESTION: Yeah. You mentioned the al-Qaida people by name living in Mogadishu. The Islamic Courts Union disavows any connection with terrorism. What's the deal here? I mean, are they not being genuine about terrorism? What's their relationship with these people?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: That's a good point. There may be some in the Courts -- it's a heterogeneous group so there may be some of the Courts and some clans that are associated with certain Courts who are actually providing safe haven, or some extremist elements within the Islamic Courts Union. But you could say that it's the Islamic -- you know, a court, you could say it's a clan, you could say it's a particular warlord. You can use any one of those adjectives to describe the fact that some people are providing safe haven for these terrorists.
Today it's the Islamic Court Union. You know, tomorrow it's this particular clan. You know, the next day it's this particular individual in this clan who happens to be the organizer of this militia that protects this court. It's dynamic and fluid. What we're trying to do is gain greater information, fidelity, and also make it very clear to all entities in Somalia, whether it's clan elders, whether it's Islamic Court militias, whether it's warlords, whether it's business people, however you want to characterize them, that these foreign terrorists are going to continue to be a critical interest of the United States. They have to be -- they're indicted. They have to be turned over. And it's not in the Somali people's interest to harbor foreign terrorists.
MR. ERELI: Libby.
QUESTION: Yeah. How is the U.S. going about gathering information about the ICU? I know you say you're going to wait until you see what their actions are and how they engage through dialogue, but what is the process now to gather information on such a heterogeneous group?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, we know some things about some members of the ICU. We have the International Somalia Contact Group to try to work and understand. That's the point of sharing information. We reach out to IGAD. I said Francois Fall was at our meeting. The European Commission has people on the ground as well. And so we're trying to reach out to all parties in the international community to try to find out what others know. Some of these individuals are known entities to us.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S. intelligence operations trying to get in there and see what --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: No, it's the U.S. Government. It's diplomacy. It's my attending the International Somalia Contact Group yesterday and saying, "What do you guys know about the Courts? What have they done? Which are the particular ones?" It's sharing of information across the board. It's reaching out to the diaspora community in Washington and internationally saying, you know, what do you know about, you know, the particular court? So I mean, it's reaching out to clan elders in Somalia. Our embassy, as you know, in Nairobi meets and talks to business people. The business people were part of the impetus for funding these courts to establish some degree of rule of law and sort of reaching out to Somali business people. Civil society women's organizations. I've gone to Minnesota, for instance, with Senator Coleman and met with his constituents who were some of these Somali business group. I think the mayor of Mogadishu was there. So we're talking to all -- I mean, across all sources of information.
QUESTION: But -- I'm sorry -- are you talking to the courts?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: We're talking -- as I said, we're talking to all elements. Some of the members of the diaspora are in certain clans which are associated with certain courts. It's very -- it's diverse.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up on something you said about the indicted al-Qaida members. Will their extradition by a condition of greater U.S. involvement or would you be willing to talk to a group that you think might be holding them?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Well, I think we have to talk to all groups because the intent is to get them turned over. And so if there's some group that is actually giving them shelter, then engaging that group, either directly or through others who have better relationships with them, it has to be a focus because these are very dangerous individuals continuing to plan operations that will kill Americans as well as the citizens of our friends. And so we've got to have them handed over.
QUESTION: Does that get the U.S., though, in the position of basically bargaining with someone who is harboring a terrorist?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: No, it doesn't get us in a positioning of bargaining. You bargain when you're not unequivocal about what the end objective is. When you go to someone who is harboring a terrorist or a group of people who are harboring them and then you tell them unequivocally you have to hand this person over, and you push for that result, I don't think that that's a bargain.
MR. ERELI: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRAZER: Thank you very much.
Released on June 16, 2006