Story highlights

State Dept. official: Move reflects "our faith that better times are ahead" for Somalia

U.S. has no immediate plans to open an embassy; the ambassador would work from Kenya

U.S. closed its embassy in Mogadishu in 1991, but has maintained diplomatic relations

CNN  — 

President Barack Obama plans to nominate the first U.S. ambassador to Somalia in more than two decades, a top State Department official said Tuesday.

Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman called the decision “a reflection both of our deepening relationship with the country and of our faith that better times are ahead.”

Sherman said the nomination would occur “soon,” but did not give any specifics.

Sherman said the United States has no plans in the immediate future to open an embassy in Mogadishu, the Somali capital wracked by violence from al Qaeda-linked extremist group Al-Shabaab. Last month, the group launched a deadly attack on the nation’s parliament.

The new ambassador would work out of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, with another dozen or so diplomats working on Somali issues, and would travel to Mogadishu.

“I would hope that in years ahead … that we will see a full presence both in Somalia and by the Somalis here in Washington,” Sherman said. “It’ll take some time, but we take this in a step-by-step approach.”

The United States and Somalia closed their embassies in each other’s capitals in 1991 after the overthrow of Mohamed Siad Barre and the effective collapse of central government in the Horn of Africa nation.

The United States and its European allies have strengthened diplomatic ties with Somalia since Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a civil activist, was elected president in September 2012. The United States officially recognized the Somali government in August 2013, and Britain is operating its diplomatic mission an office at the Mogadishu airport until the rest of the UK Embassy compound is completed.