The US is considering a major diplomatic initiative to help create a functional government in lawless Somalia, a senior US State Department official said Friday.
The aim would be to restore the war-ravaged country to some form of normality for its impoverished people and rein in terrorist elements, including some affiliated with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, the official said.
Both would boost east African stability and reduce the terrorist threat in the region, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
The Somalian capital was ironically the scene of one of the biggest US military fiascos of recent times in October 1993. The US Army was fighting in Mogadishu against militiamen loyal to the late warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid when 18 Task Force rangers on two Black Hawk helicopters were killed.
Should it proceed, the US push would see significant US financial, logistical and diplomatic assistance funneled into faltering Kenyan-mediated negotiations between Somalia's warring factions, the official said.
It could be modeled on US support for peace talks between Sudan's government and southern rebels, also being mediated by Kenya, that appear close to producing a settlement to end 20 years of civil war, the official said.
US President George W. Bush's administration, which has placed a high priority on the Sudan peace effort, is studying the feasibility of Washington's involvement in the Somalia talks, the official said.
A report on the possibilities is due to be completed within 60 days, the official said.
"Kiplagat is a good diplomat and has taken a relatively hopeless situation and matured it," the official said, referring to Bethuel Kiplagat, Kenya's special envoy to the peace talks.
"I don't know if he has matured enough to where we and somebody else can step in and take it to an end game that is satisfying though," the official said. "That's what the question is."
There have been 15 failed bids to negotiate durable peace in Somalia, which has been without a recognized central government since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.
Last September, delegates to the latest round, which began in October 2002, endorsed a transitional federal charter but that was immediately rejected by several key figures, including the head of the current transitional government.
Earlier Friday, the regional Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), which has been sponsoring the current round, convened a meeting of Somali political leaders and warlords in Nairobi to try to give the talks a boost.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, whose country now chairs IGAD, urged Somalis to end the "slow genocide" in their country and Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki challenged them to end the "senseless war" in the Horn of Africa nation.
Kibaki called on the fractious leader to upgrade a frequently ignored October 2002 truce into a complete ceasefire agreement. That pace has been violated repeatedly, mostly in Somalia's bullet-charred capital of Mogadishu.
Kenyan officials have for months warned the international community against ignoring lawlessness in Somalia, saying it poses a threat to the stability of nearby countries and is a "breeding ground" for criminality and terrorism.
Kenya has been hit twice by terrorist attacks blamed on al-Qaeda, including the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi and the 2002 bombing of an Israeli-owned hotel in Mombasa.