Ethiopian, Islamist Forces Clash in Somalia This weekend, Ethiopian aircraft and tanks attacked Islamist forces in Somalia, and a long-simmering feud in the Horn of Africa erupted into open warfare. Guests discuss the roles of Ethiopia, Eritrea, al-Qaida and the United States in Somalia.
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Ethiopian, Islamist Forces Clash in Somalia

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Ethiopian, Islamist Forces Clash in Somalia

Ethiopian, Islamist Forces Clash in Somalia

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Open warfare erupted between Ethiopia and Somalia over the weekend. The counts are impossible to confirm, but both sides report substantial advances by Ethiopian forces, regarded as the largest, best-equipped and best-trained troops in the region.

Lightly armed Islamist forces are in retreat, or tactical withdrawal, depending on who you listen to. And while Ethiopian leaders say they're already halfway to their objective and could pull out within weeks, Somalia's Islamic Courts movement vows a long war to expel every Ethiopian from Somalian soil.

Ethiopia supports a transitional government that appears to have little support in Somalia, but it's backed by the African Union and the United Nations. And Ethiopia enjoys the support of the United States, which believes that elements of al-Qaida are deeply entwined with the Somali Courts movement.

The Islamists, in turn, are backed by Ethiopia's long-time enemy, Eritrea, and they've called for foreign fighters to join a holy war. Many worry the conflict could widen, and the United Nations Security Council meets in emergency session in about an hour from now.

Later in the program, journalist William Langewiesche on the United States Marines and charges of murder in Haditha, and we'll follow up with another of the newsmakers of 2006, Josh Blue, the last comic standing.

But first, the war between Ethiopia and Somalia, and the roles of the United States, the A.U. and the U.N. If you have questions about why the conflict started, about who's backing whom, the prospects of a regional war or a diplomatic resolution, our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. That's 800-989-TALK. E-mail

And joining us now is Rob Crilly. He's a freelance reporter and contributor to the Christian Science Monitor and to The Times of London. He joins us by cell phone from Nairobi in Kenya. Good to speak with you.

Mr. ROB CRILLY (Contributor, Christian Science Monitor, The Times of London): Good to be with you.

CONAN: And can you describe as best you can the situation on the ground?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, yes. It's changing minute by minute, hour by hour. But as far as we can tell, in the past two or three days, Ethiopian military might has been brought to bear on the Islamic Court's militias, and they are now largely in retreat. Although their leadership says this is a tactical withdrawal, they've suffered heavy casualties.

A number of their positions have been bombed by Ethiopian warplanes, and even the international airport in Mogadishu, which is held by the Islamists, has been attacked by Ethiopian warplanes. So I think for the moment the Ethiopians and their allies, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia, has really gained the upper hand in fighting, which erupted openly about three days ago. And we've been seeing on-and-off skirmishes for a week, but in the open fighting that we've seen for the past few days, it looks like the Islamists are pulling back towards Mogadishu.

CONAN: What do the Ethiopians say their objective is?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, at the moment, they say their objective is purely to defend the Transitional Federal Government. Certainly, they would like to crush the Islamists. They see the Islamists as a direct threat to their own security in Ethiopia, but they know that the further they push into Somalia, the more resistance they're likely to meet. And they run the risk of uniting the disparate Somali clans against them, strengthening the support of the Islamists.

So at the moment, although there have been mixed messages out of Addis Ababa today, at the moment it looks like they're intent on pushing the Islamists back and trying to pen them up within Mogadishu rather than pushing for all-out victory.

CONAN: And presumably then try to restart peace negotiations?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, that seems the only logical outcome. This being Somalia, you never really know what might happen, but certainly the problem the Ethiopians face is that somebody somewhere has got to prop up the transitional government. The government itself cannot do it themselves. They have few militias, so somebody has to prop up this weak government.

If the Ethiopians aren't prepared to make a long-term commitment to remaining in Somalia, they would leave a vacuum behind which the Islamists would simply fill again. So the logical outcome, and certainly so far both sides have always ruled out negotiations, but the only logical outcome is some sort of political settlement in the long term.

CONAN: And what are the Islamists, the Somali Courts movement, saying in Mogadishu?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, their position is very much they're having to rethink their tactics in the face of an air assault. They admit they have lost fighters, but they also claim to have inflicted heavy casualties on the Ethiopians. So their position is simply that they're digging in for a long war, rethinking their tactics and are likely to adopt some sort of guerrilla warfare.

Now I think you can take their statements with a pinch of salt. They've suffered something of a bloody nose in the past couple of days.

CONAN: Well, joining us here in the studio in Washington, in Studio 3A, is Jonathan Landay, national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy. And nice to have you back on the program.

Mr. JONATHAN LANDAY (National Security and Intelligence Correspondent, McClatchy Newspapers): Nice to be here.

CONAN: The New York Times reported that American surveillance planes were spotted in the skies above Somalia, maybe funneling battlefield intelligence to Ethiopian forces. What role is the United States playing in this conflict?

Mr. LANDAY: Well, right now there's no overt role that anyone can tell. However, it's wide opinion or view that the United States, the Bush administration, has given tacit support to the Ethiopian incursion and intervention in Somalia for a number of reasons. One being the contention that the Islamic Courts are harboring some fairly senior members of al-Qaida and have refused to give them up, members of al-Qaida that the Bush administration says were involved in attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa and I believe the Cole bombing. But the other reason...

CONAN: The destroyer, USS Cole.

Mr. LANDAY: Yes. The other reason, though, is because without the Ethiopian military might, the Islamists would almost certainly have overrun what's known as the Transitional Federal Government, which is this U.N.-recognized, though powerless, Somali government that has penned up actually before the fighting started in the town of Baidoa and would have probably been overrun had the Ethiopians not been there.

But there have been also other statements, or lack of statements, by the United States about the situation, which have contributed to the impression that the United States is tacitly approving of what the Ethiopians are doing.

CONAN: Let me ask Rob Crilly in Nairobi, what reports do you have there, evidence of al-Qaida operatives in Somalia?

Mr. CRILLY: Well, it's largely hearsay, to be honest. I mean we know that Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, one of the leaders, one of the most influential figures in the Islamic Courts, was the leader of an organization known as al-Itthad, which launched a number of bombing campaigns in Ethiopia during the early '90s.

And his organization was believed to have been linked with al-Qaida. He certainly is listed by the U.S. as being connected with international terrorism.

Certainly, also we have heard in a number of reports that the bombers involved in those attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salem in 1998 were recruited and received some training in Somalia.

So certainly there's a degree of circumstantial and historical evidence that there are links with al-Qaida, but I'm not sure that anybody really believes that's the driving force behind the Islamic Courts. There may be one or two rather nasty figures there, but I'm not sure that the leadership really wants to go down that route.

CONAN: Jonathan Landay, we describe Ethiopian forces as the largest, best-trained, best-equipped. What sort of equipment do they have? Where do they get it? Who pays for it?

Mr. LANDAY: Well, actually, the bulk of the equipment comes - was designed in the former Soviet Union. They have Soviet aircraft, Soviet-designed aircraft. Their main battle tanks were Soviet-designed. However, they have received quite a lot of what's described as non-lethal military assistance from the United States, especially since the, quote-unquote, “war on terror” began. This non-lethal assistance includes things like officer training, counter-terrorism training, this kind of thing. But there doesn't seem to be any evidence that it goes beyond that. Of course, we don't know what we don't know.

CONAN: There are substantial U.S. forces in Djibouti, which of course neighbors Somalia to the north, right on the tip of the horn of Africa there. Any indication that they are involved in this in any way?

Mr. LANDAY: Not really, and in fact the indications are that there hasn't been much counter terrorism for those forces to do, not in terms of military action. There have been substantial efforts by the Horn of Africa taskforce, as it's known as, to do counter terrorism or counter insurgency types of operations in terms of hearts and minds, of digging water wells, building schools, this kind of thing, but there doesn't appear to be anything beyond that.

CONAN: And Rob Crilly, let me ask you. Ethiopia has been described as a nation of Christian identity, though about half the population is Muslim. Somalia of course almost entirely Muslim, how much of this is a religious war?

Mr. CRILLY: Oh well I think in - I'm not sure that's a huge factor. I mean certainly Ethiopia is primarily concerned about its border security. Somalis have, for a long time, considered an eastern portion of Ethiopia as being part of the greater Somalia. And certainly that there is also a fear of rise of Islamic extremism on their doorstep.

I don't think it's outright hostility between Christian, Christians and Muslims. There are whole range of other factors, not least, existing enmity between the Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the leader of the Islamic Courts, two personalities who've crossed swords several times in the past.

So I don't think we can make this into a Christian versus Muslim struggle. Although inevitably, when you have these two populations involved, there may be elements of that beneath the surface.

CONAN: And, Jonathan Landay, any indication of what the United Nations may be discussing when they gather, well, about 40 minutes from now.

Mr. LANDAY: Well, the Security Council is supposed to receive a report. It's an emergency session, a report on the situation as much as is known in Somalia. What happens after that, we're not sure.

But recently the United Nations Security passed a resolution of the U.S.-sponsored resolution that authorized the deployment of an African Union peacekeeping force in Somalia. It doesn't appear at this point that that can happen. And one of the reasons why there is this view that the United States tacitly supports what the Ethiopians have done is because the United States and Britain pushed this resolution through and there was no call in the resolution for an Ethiopian withdrawal.

CONAN: Jonathan Landay, thanks very much. We appreciate your time today.

Mr. LANDAY: My pleasure.

CONAN: Jonathan Landay is national security and intelligence correspondent for McClatchy, with us here in Studio 3A. And Rob Crilly, we appreciate your time today as well.

Ms. CRILLY: Thanks very much.

CONAN: Rob Crilly is a freelance reporter, contributor to the Christian Science Monitor and to The Times of London. He joined us today from his base in Nairobi, Kenya.

When we get back from a short break, we'll speak with the Ethiopian ambassador to the United States and with Herman Cohen, former assistant secretary of state for Africa. And if you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call, 800-989-8255. E-mail us

I'm Neal Conan. This is the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is the TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Next Monday at this time, on New Year's Day, we're going to remember people who passed away this year and how they made a difference in our lives. We invite you to help us out by nominating people you'd like us to remember. Send us an e-mail, and put Made a Difference in the subject line. Tell us as much you can about the person you'd like to remember and why, and we'll post the e-mails on New Year's Day.

Right now we're talking about the conflict in Somalia, the role of Ethiopia and the United States. Joining us now from the embassy of Ethiopia here in Washington, D.C., is Ambassador Samuel Assefa. He's the Ethiopia's ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks very much for being with us today.

Dr. SAMUEL ASSEFA (Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States): Thank you very much.

CONAN: Why did Ethiopia decide to strike at Somalia now?

Dr. ASSEFA: This is not one but two questions. Why did we take the offensive? And did we take the offensive? First of all, I want to take issue with the idea that we did take the offensive. This is at best a counter offensive, a self-defense measure and not an action that is taken as it were sort of - this is not an action that we have initiated but we are responding to external aggression. But this itself is not a complete answer.

We are there not unilaterally. We are there upon the invitation of the legitimate government of Somalia, and this really needs to be underscored. It calls for the self-defense have been heeded by us. These calls for their self-defense on the part of the Somali government, self-defense against universally-acknowledged terrorist forces that are subverting both its authority and posing enormous dangers to the region as a whole. These calls are not simply heeded by Ethiopia.

They have been - their legitimacy has been acknowledged by the African Union, by ICAD(ph) and lately of course by the Security Council in its most recent resolution calling for an African force that's Security Council Resolution 1-7-2-5, 1725. And these are the calls that we're heeding. We are there to defend the legitimate government of Somalia upon its invitation and abiding strictly by its authority.

This needs to be underscored. Of course, we have reasons of our own, reasons of national security. We have been of course the target of very threatening, not simply language, threatening actions on the part of not the IC as a whole. We do not want to talk here about the Islamists as a whole. We do not want to talk about fundamentalism in general. We do not want to talk about the ICU as a whole.

Mainly, ICU is composed of very moderate elements and we even acknowledge that many of their demands may well be legitimate, that they are capable of entering dialogue and working constructively for the region, for the people of Somalia as well. But we're talking about the leadership which has taken the movement hostage, essentially.

CONAN: ICU, of course, is the Islamic Courts Union. Do - does Ethiopia intend to keep its forces in Somalia?

Dr. ASSEFA: We have no intention of keeping our forces in Somalia. We have every intention of withdrawing very speedily, and how speedily of course depends on the Transitional Government itself and the Somali people. It also depends upon what the international community wishes to do. There is a resolution in place - the Security Council resolution calling for peacekeeping forces to see to the peace. And this requires of course financial and other kinds of support by the international community. This is not to be burdened by Ethiopia alone, but we have every intention of withdrawing speedily. We're not seeking military adventure. We are war weary. We have no intention there to be present, and therefore this will be a very speedy affair.

CONAN: Mr. Ambassador, with respect, if the Ethiopian forces push the Somali forces back towards Mogadishu and then speedily withdraws, as you say they will, other than the bloody nose your forces have issued to the troops there, what's the difference? Won't they just come back towards Baidoa?

Dr. ASSEFA: Well, this where I say basically this is not something we decide on our own. This is something, first of all, that is to be left to the Somali people and its legitimate government, the Transitional Government. But it will require assistance by the international community. How to basically defend another wave, another powerful military wave, that basically preempts dialogue. The whole effort is an effort to enable dialogue, to create an environment that is conducive to political dialogue. The objectives are essentially not military but political.

CONAN: And finally Mr. Ambassador, what role is the United States' been playing? Is it correct to say the U.S. has been providing support to Ethiopia?

Dr. ASSEFA: Well, the - one has to be rather delicate. No answers are in order. I think the U.S. has been more well informed, more responsible in - at least its responses than perhaps others, but this is - the U.S. has consistently cautioned against unilateral action on our part. And I think we have heeded this request in every way possible. But the U.S. is - how should I say it - it does understand our predicament and the predicament of the international community as a whole.

CONAN: Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Dr. ASSEFA: Thank you.

CONAN: Samuel Asseffa is Ethiopia's ambassador to the United States, and he joined us here by phone from the embassy in Washington, D.C.

With us here in studio 3A, Herman Cohen, who was the assistant secretary of state for African affairs under Secretary of State James Baker during the first Bush administration. And, Mr. Assistant Secretary, thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. HERMAN COHEN (Former Assistant Secretary of State for Africa): My pleasure.

CONAN: Is there a diplomatic route out of this crisis?

Mr. COHEN: I think there has to be a diplomatic route. There is clearly no military solution. The Islamic Courts don't have the equipment that the Ethiopians have, so they cannot defeat them. And the Ethiopians are very smart not to get into a guerilla war.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi on the radio earlier today, he said we're not going to go into the urban areas where you do get into guerrilla. So I think the Islamic Courts orders think again about a long war and talk about more of peacekeeping and negotiations.

CONAN: As you know, also some elements within the Islamic Courts Movement have said this is a war they are going to take to Ethiopia.

Mr. COHEN: Well, that's not impossible. Because if you look at the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, which is that pointy part that's right in the heart of Somalia, there are only Somalis living there. And it is…

CONAN: Somali speakers.

Mr. COHEN: Somali speakers. And they are already creating quite a difficult situation for the Ethiopians. It's kind of the Ethiopian government rules by day and the guerillas rule by night. So they have the capability of causing problems, yes.

CONAN: And so this could escalate not only between the two major players but, as we've mentioned earlier, there are other countries involved.

Mr. COHEN: Yes, there are other countries involved. The Eritreans are a spoiler. They really want to punish the Ethiopians for their war in the north, in their border war that has not ended yet. So they're sort of egging on the more extremist elements of the Islamic Courts to do battle with Ethiopia. They'd like to give Ethiopia bloody nose. And they are I would call the regional destabilizers. They get everyone into trouble. They helped start the Darfur war. They were very much involved in the north-south war of Sudan. So they're kind of an evil element in here.

And then of course you do have the external jihadists would like to get their feet in there. And the Ethiopians - I tend to agree with the Ethiopian ambassador's explanation. I think it's quite valid. But they have an interest in maintaining tension in the region because they have severe human rights problems at home, they are being heavily criticized by the international community. Getting into a tense situation with Somalia tends to obscure that and keep the Americans on their side.

CONAN: And let's see if we can get some listeners involved in the conversation. Let's start with Abde Rahim(ph). Abde Rahim is calling us from Columbus, Ohio.

Mr. ABDE RAHIM (Caller): Thank you, Neal, for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

Mr. RAHIM: First of all, I'm very disturbed by the news now coming out from Somalia that Ethiopia basically invaded Somalia. This is invasion that we are talking about. And I'm very disappointed as a Somali-American that neither one of these governments not taking a stand, a constructive stand, telling Ethiopia to get out of Somalia and tell them to keep in their country. You know. Basically, they've invaded Somalia. They're compromising the territorial integrity of another country. And the third thing I want to address…

CONAN: I take it that you would - you don't stand with the argument that this is an invitation by the legitimate government in Baidoa, the Transitional Federal Government?

Mr. RAHIM: This legitimate government basically failed to negotiate the peace settlement with the Courts. There have been different times that have been tried, that they come to the negotiating table, and both sides have basically failed to come to an agreement.

The problem here is that this weak government is not doing anything to constructively engage the Somali people and keep security in the country. So far, what do we know right now is that the Islamic courts, they come into the scene basically creating security and getting rid of this 16-year status quo that the warlords created that basically put fear in the hearts of the Somalis that basically the Somalis lose hope.

You know, they said there's no hope for no more Somali. But Islamic courts basically brought hope.

CONAN: Let's get a response to that from Herman Cohen. And stability in Somalia, a commodity in very short supply in the last 15 years, did seem to flow after the Islamic Courts Union began to take control of major parts of the country beginning - what? - last June.

Mr. COHEN: I sympathize totally with the caller because they did do wonderful things in Mogadishu. They got rid of these thuggish warlords who were terrorizing the people for about 12 years and they established stability. Commerce is now going. The people can go about their business. It was wonderful. But they've made some mistakes.

First of all, they designated right early on that Ethiopia is the enemy. Somehow they felt that the only way to have unity is to have an external enemy, so that got Ethiopia very frightened. Secondly, they violated their own declaration that they would not use force to spread the cause of the Islamic government. They took the city of Kismayo in southern Somalia by force, against the will of the population. This frightened a lot of people, created a lot of refugees going into Kenya.

And then they brought their forces very close to Baidoa, where you have the Transitional Government. Now this government may be weak and not control much, but they are recognized. They are recognized by the African Union, by the United States and by the United Nations. They should not have threatened this government. They should have done more to negotiate with it. And I think what has happened is the Islamic courts - which is generally a moderate organization, as the Ethiopian ambassador told us - has been taken over in the military side by some very extremist people who are making big mistakes because they don't have the power to counter Ethiopian power.

CONAN: We're talking about the war that's erupted between Somalia and Ethiopia. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's get Mark(ph) on the line. Mark calling us from San Francisco.

MARK (Caller): Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

MARK: I was stationed as a Marine for about nine months in Somalia. And as you remember, like, you know, our initial involvement there was pretty peaceful. And I had a really good sense doing security runs back and forth between Mogadishu by the Kismayo.

CONAN: This is back in '93?

MARK: This is back in '93. And as you - it's actually '92. If you watched, you know, how that relationship changed, there was something really extraordinary that happened during our time there that changed the entire way the Somalis looked as us as a nation and our involvement there. And it was the involvement of the Ethiopians. If you can a little later on the program maybe go into some of the history between them, because the Ethiopians and the Somalians are not really going to ever really get along.

CONAN: This is I think the third war between them, Ambassador?

MARK: Yeah. Yeah.

Mr. COHEN: This may even be the fourth war.

MARK: They're never going to see any involvement as the Ethiopians and a Transitional Government as being a viable government by themselves. These warlords and the people who were under them are citizens of that country. And they're never going to accept the Ethiopians' involvement. They're always going to see them as being handed over to their enemies, so to speak.

CONAN: And don't the - many people in Somalia see the Ethiopians as proxies for the United States to some degree as well.

MARK: Yes, they do.

CONAN: I'm speaking to Herman Cohen. Excuse me, Mark. Just a minute.

Mr. COHEN: Yes, they do. You know, the Somalis are divided up into many clans and sub-clans. They don't trust each other. They're always bickering and fighting with each other. The one thing that unites them is unity against the common external enemy, which is Ethiopia. And it's very easy to get them all riled up by just mentioning the word Ethiopia. So the U.S. has to be very careful about its association with Ethiopia in that case.

MARK: And also the - they see the Ethiopian's involvement as an arm of the United States. If you can just look at a map, you'll see that the area is pretty strategic to the oil resources, not to mention the oil resources within Somalia. Little known fact, we had a pipeline there once and spilled about 30 gallons - 30,000 gallons of oil onto the beach of Mogadishu.

CONAN: All right. Mark, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

MARK: You're welcome.

CONAN: Somalia itself certainly doesn't produce a whole lot of oil, but is, as Mark says, the horn of Africa right there, straddling the export lines around Arabia.

Mr. COHEN: That's correct. Yes. And before the country fell apart at '92, there was big oil exploration going on in central Somalia. So the oil companies believe that oil is there.

CONAN: As you look at this situation, the United States is in war in Afghanistan, it is at war in Iraq, it seen as being part of this conflict in Somalia. Could the United States get involved again?

Mr. COHEN: I think they are already involved in support of Ethiopia. I think the United States was too quick to rush to judgment on the Islamic courts. They immediately looked at them as an arm of al-Qaida or as a semi arm of al-Qaida. What they should've done is engage with the Courts right at the beginning and said, look, we have nothing against Islamic government. We just want you to have a democratic Islamic government. And do not harbor extremist and we'll give you aid.

But we quickly jumped in there and put them in the category of bad guys. And I think this was a mistake.

CONAN: Amb. Cohen, can you stay with us over the break?

Mr. COHEN: Sure.

CONAN: And we'll talk a little bit about what can happen next.

Mr. COHEN: Yes.

CONAN: All right, Ambassador. This is Herman Cohen, who's a former assistant secretary of state for Africa during the first administration, the first Bush administration, of course, back in the early part of the 1990s.

I'm Neal Conan. I'll get my facts straight and my date straight, and we'll come back after a break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Tomorrow, 2006 was a year of change for Republicans and Democrats and a year of rising political stars. We'll round up the year in politics with our political junkie Ken Rudin tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

In just a moment, we'll be speaking with journalist William Langewiesche about charges of murder against the United States Marines in Haditha in Iraq. But let's continue our conversation with Herman Cohen, former assistant secretary of state for African affairs from 1989 to 1993, that under the first President Bush. He's with us here in the studio.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. This is Mohammad(ph). Mohammad's with us in Minneapolis.

MOHAMMAD (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thank you. I appreciate that you answered my call on the program. I just want to put in some perspective to what this means for Somalians everywhere, here in the United States and back home too. To just give you an idea, this is not necessarily a paranoia on the part of the Ethiopians. But Mogadishu, the capital, has a paranoia of the West, and it is - you could just categorize it and say it is just a revenge, or they're just being vengeful and trying to just basically create a (unintelligible) somewhat smaller states for Somalia where they can have some kind of control over.

CONAN: Yes. And do you have a question for former assistant secretary of state?

MOHAMMAD: Yes, I do. I just want to ask a question, and I'm sure that he wouldn't basically have an answer to that question since he was directed to the government. And that is why would the American government or current administrations couldn't have a direct contact and maybe an open dialogue with the Islamic Courts in the state of (unintelligible) making the same mistakes all over Iraq and other place in the world.

CONAN: Herman Cohen, you said just before the break that the United States could have directly negotiated. But don't they recognize the Transitional Federal Government? How do you negotiate with two governments?

Mr. COHEN: Well, you can because the country is split, and the United States has delicately tried to have a dialogue with the Islamic Courts. And later in the game, almost too late, the U.S. ambassador in Nairobi has met with some of the leadership there. But it has not been really very substantive because we're insisting, give up those terrorists that you're hiding or there's no real dialogue, which I think this is self-defeating. We should really talk substance with them.

And how do you have the democratic system under Islam? How do you have negotiations with the federal government? Get down to real conflict resolution, something that the U.S. used to be good at. And I think we should go back to that.

CONAN: And Mohammad, thanks very much for the call.

MOHAMMAD: May I ask another question?

CONAN: I'm afraid we're running out of time Mohammad, and I'm going to have to cut you off because I did want to ask Herman Cohen. The United Nations meets this afternoon. Is this likely to come up with a way ahead, some sort of diplomatic resolution?

Mr. COHEN: I think this is the beginning of the diplomatic resolution. The Islamic courts have seen now that they cannot beat the Transitional Federal Government. They're going to have to get into a dialogue, and I hope they accept peacekeepers who will really calm things down.

CONAN: Yet, if the Ethiopians, as they say, withdraw speedily, arrival of peacekeepers is not going to happen speedily?

Mr. COHEN: That's right. So I would hope the Ethiopians would depart slowly.

CONAN: Herman Cohen, thank you very much for your time.

Mr. COHEN: You're welcome.

CONAN: Herman Cohen, as we mentioned, former assistant secretary of state for Africa. He was kind enough to join us today here in Studio 3A. When we come back, Haditha and the Marines.

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