Obama Aide Brennan Presses Yemen Leadership for Political Change

President Barack Obama’s top counterterrorism aide met with senior Yemeni officials in Sana’a, the capital, a day after urging President Ali Abdullah Saleh to honor a promise to end his three-decade rule.

John Brennan, Obama’s assistant for counterterrorism and homeland security, met yesterday with Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, the state-run Saba news agency reported. He also held talks with the chief of general staff, Ahmed al-Ashwal; Ahmed Saleh, a son of Saleh who heads the Republican Guards; and Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi, with whom he discussed a proposal by the Gulf Cooperation Council for Saleh to step down.

In Saudi Arabia on July 10, Brennan asked Saleh “to fulfill expeditiously his pledge to sign the GCC-brokered agreement for peaceful and constitutional political transition in Yemen,” according to a White House statement on July 10. Saleh is in Riyadh recovering from injuries sustained during a June 3 attack on his presidential compound in Sana’a.

The White House had no comment on Brennan’s meetings in Sana’a.

Tens of thousands protested yesterday in Sana’a, Taiz and other cities to denounce U.S.-Saudi interference and urge the Saudi government to hand Saleh over for prosecution. They also demanded the removal of Saleh’s relatives from government positions and the formation of a transitional council to run the Arab Peninsula nation.

Pro-democracy protesters have called for an end to Saleh’s rule since January. Hundreds of people have died in clashes between activists and government forces since then as Yemen’s economy and security worsens. Saleh has refused to sign the GCC plan on three occasions since May, after initially backing it.

Saleh Plans Return

Saleh will return to Yemen on July 17, the 33rd anniversary of his taking office, Al Arabiya television said over the weekend, citing an unidentified official. Saleh chose that date to send a message that he’s still the legitimate president of Yemen until September 2013, Al Arabiya cited the official as saying.

The GCC accord requires Saleh to step down within 30 days of it being signed and hand power over to his deputy in exchange for immunity from prosecution. The handover would be followed by elections.

Once the pledge is signed, “much needed assistance will flow to Yemen,” according to the July 10th U.S. statement. “The United States believes that a transition in Yemen should begin immediately so that the Yemeni people can realize their aspirations.”

Resolving the Crisis

Brennan “emphasized the importance of resolving the political crisis in Sana’a” and wished Saleh “a speedy recovery,” according to the statement. He also reiterated the U.S. government’s condemnation of the attack on Saleh.

Hundreds of Yemeni citizens have been killed in attacks by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the statement said. An end to the political crisis is needed “so that the Yemeni government and people can successfully confront the serious challenges they face,” it said.

Forces in the province of Abyan killed four al-Qaeda militants and wounded two others in clashes, Saba said July 10. A Yemeni soldier was also killed and four others injured in the fight, it said.

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