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Hillary Clinton meets with Somali president in Kenya

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Hillary Clinton, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, right, and President of Somalia, Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed, left meet during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2009.
AP Photo/Khalil Senosi

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Somalia's new president Thursday and promised to expand American aid to the country's weak government.

Speaking in neighboring Kenya, Clinton brought attention to the extremist militia known as al-Shabaab, which she said wants to make Somalia a haven for global terrorism.

Former Minnesota journalist Abdi Aynte, now an editor with Voice of America, interviewed Somali President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed Thursday. Aynte said the meeting between Clinton and the Somali president suggests that the U.S. has a genuine interest in stabilizing the country.

"Somalia is now standing at the same crossroads as Afghanistan was standing in 1999 and 2000," Aynte said. "You have a failed state, and you have  non-state actors who are clearly exhibiting behaviors that are very much aligned with the behaviors of al-Qaida."

Aynte said the Somali president told him he was encouraged by Clinton's remarks. Ahmed said Clinton committed to offering more humanitarian aid to Somalia, and to train security forces there or help pay for the training, Aynte said.

But Aynte and others say it's too early to say whether the symbolic gesture of the visit will bring any lasting peace to Somalia. 

Abdi Samatar, a professor of geography at the University of Minnesota, said he was hoping for more out of the meeting.

"It seems like a break with the past, but I would argue that it's a continuation of the past in other ways," Samatar said.

Samatar said Clinton's remarks sounded similar to how the Bush administration approached the embattled Muslim country. Samatar said was hoping that Clinton would depart from the traditional, and perhaps alienating, approach of picking winners and losers in the war on terror.

"It's giving support to one side who has very little to offer to the Somali people, and telling the other guys, 'You are terrorists, and we will be fighting you,'" Samatar said. 

Somalia's fragile government has control of just a few blocks in the capital city of Mogadishu.