Islamic authorities who have seized control of Somalia's capital are beginning talks Thursday with the country's U.N.-backed transitional government.
A government spokesman, Abdirahman Nur Dinari, says two ministers have been sent to talk with the Islamic Courts Union in Mogadishu.
North of the capital, Islamic fighters loyal to the sharia courts have pulled back from the last major city controlled by opposing warlords.
Somali clan elders had pressured the militia not to attack Jowhar, 90 kilometers away from Mogadishu.
Witnesses say the Islamists have moved back to an area near Balad, which they also captured last week. They say fighters loyal to the warlords have reclaimed former positions a few kilometers south of Jowhar.
If the Islamic militias were to capture Jowhar, they would control most of southern Somalia.
More than 350 people have died in the fighting between the sides since February.
In Washington Wednesday, the United States left open the possibility it might work with the Islamic authorities despite past concerns. President Bush has expressed concern Somalia could turn into a safe haven for terrorists.
The Islamic leaders have said they are trying to restore order to Somalia, which has not had an effective central government since 1991.
The transitional government is based in Baidoa, west of the capital, and has been unable to assert authority over the east African country.
Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.