(CNN) The U.S. State Department took a major step Tuesday towards re-establishing normal relations with the government of Somalia, reopening its diplomatic mission following a decades-long closure.
But the step is an incremental one — the mission itself will be based in neighboring Kenya for now, due to the tenuous security situation in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
“The launch of the U.S. Mission to Somalia is the next step towards reestablishing a diplomatic presence by the United States in Somalia as announced by Secretary Kerry on May 5 during his historic visit to Mogadishu,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said in a statement announcing the start of mission operations.
“U.S. officials will continue to travel to Somalia to conduct official business as security conditions permit,” he added.
The mission will also operate, for the time being, without an ambassador.
President Barack Obama initially nominated career foreign service officer Katherine Dhanani to fill the post, but she later withdrew herself from consideration for personal reasons.
Until a new nominee can be announced and approved by Congress, the mission will be led by a Chargé d’Affaires, Kirby said in his statement.
The U.S. closed its embassy in Mogadishu in 1991 after the overthrow of the country’s president, Mohamed Siad Barre, which plunged the country into a protracted internal conflict.
In 2013, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially recognized the government of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, meeting with the leader in Washington and opening the door for further U.S. economic assistance.
That step followed significant security investments by the Mohamud government, and increased cooperation between the U.S. and Somalia in fighting terrorist groups such as Al Shabaab.
“There is still a long way to go and many challenges to confront, but we have seen a new foundation for that better future being laid,” Clinton said at the time.