Friday, 6 May 2011

Yemen: US position shifts

Yemen's regional and international friends are deeply frustrated by the inability of Yemen's politicians to agree on a way forward and presumably by their own powerlessness to influence events.

Many experts had predicted that President Ali Abdullah Saleh would fall when the US and Saudi governments ceased to support him. That support was withdrawn in late March, though nothing was said in public and the US appears to have concluded that the fight against Al-Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is Washington 's main priority in Yemen, could not be pursued with a president whose position had become untenable. A US spokesperson had condemned the violence of recent weeks as “appalling” and another had spoken of an urgently needed agreement on a transition – Saleh leaving power, in other words. The US froze its new aid programme to Yemen, due to start in February.

The US and its allies fully understand the problems that any new regime will encounter but now see this as a lesser evil than Saleh staying on, even though there must be deep concerns about how the counter-terrorist forces led by Saleh's close relatives can remain intact. The US has been careful – in public – not to be seen to be interfering too overtly and wants to leave the details to the Yemeni people. As one US official put it, President Saleh has expressed “his willingness to engage in a peaceful transition, but we don't have any specifics, we don't have any timelines”.

The EU governments have been speaking more plainly, demanding that Saleh agree to a transitional arrangement. French foreign minister Alain JuppĂ© went further, saying that the “resignation of the Yemeni president has become inevitable”. Turkey, a regional power with growing influence on the peninsula, said that it expected “Yemen's administration to show respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the demonstrators who have been expressing their expectations and demands through peaceful means. We wish Yemen's future to be determined within the scope of a comprehensive national dialogue process that would be carried out with the participation of all segments of the society.”

The UN Security Council discussed the situation in Yemen on 19 April and eventually issued a neutral statement, apparently because of the unwillingness of China and Russia to use stronger language. This is consistent with their stance on the Arab Spring, where they have wanted to let each state decide for itself on its future, without outside interference.

For more news and expert analysis about Yemen, please see Yemen Focus.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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