Yemen's President Saleh offers to step down by year's end
Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's concession comes closer to protesters' demands. But it also could complicate US counterterrorism efforts in the country, home to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
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After the defection of several top military commanders yesterday and a wave of weekend resignations from Yemen's diplomatic corps, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said through a spokesman Tuesday that he is willing to step down by year's end in a “constitutional” power transfer, according to Al Jazeera.
Mr. Saleh's increasing concessions – just weeks ago he firmly refused to even come up with an exit plan by year's end let alone leave office – raise questions about the future of America's counterterrorism cooperation with Yemen should he step down.
The tenuous partnership has been touted by US officials as imperative to reining in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the regional franchise that has claimed responsibility for several attempted terrorist attacks on Western targets. While Saleh has not always been seen as completely cooperative, his regime and President Barack Obama's government carried on a "relationship of convenience," the Associated Press reports.
For two years, the Obama administration has had a relationship of convenience with Yemen: The US kept the Yemeni government armed and flush with cash. In return, Yemen's leaders helped fight al-Qaida or, as often, looked the other way while the US did.
That relationship is about to get a lot less convenient.
Of all the uprisings and protests that have swept the Middle East this year, none is more likely than Yemen to have immediate damaging effects on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Yemen is home to al-Qaida's most active franchise, and as President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government crumbles, so does Washington's influence there.
The challenge for the US with a new leader will be to convince him to “continue an unpopular campaign” against Al Qaeda even in a country that deals with more pressing domestic issues, among them the restive Houthi population in the north, secessionists in the south, pirates off its shore, a population that is half illiterate, and water scarcity that is likely to worsen, the AP adds. It is also unclear exactly how organized AQAP is, given that they have never successfully pulled off a major terrorist operation.
Yemen receives about $300 million annually in US aid, which was stepped up after the attempted airplane bombing of a Detroit-bound flight in December 2009 was credited to the Yemen-based Al Qaeda branch, Bloomberg reports.