Saudi Diplomat Kidnapped by Gunmen in Yemeni Port of Aden

Unidentified gunmen kidnapped Abdullah al-Khalidi, Saudi Arabia’s deputy consul in the Yemeni port city of Aden, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

The Saudi diplomat was snatched early today by an armed group at the front of his residence in Aden, the Riyadh-based news service said, citing an unidentified Ministry of Foreign Affairs official. An investigation has started and Saudi authorities hold the abductors responsible for the safety of al-Khalidi, the news service said.

Saudi Arabia, the Arab world’s biggest economy, helped broker an accord to end popular unrest that led to Ali Abdullah Saleh stepping down as president in November. Yemen, bordering Saudi Arabia and Oman at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, is now seeking to recover from protests that weakened the central government’s authority and reduced oil production to about half of its 250,000 barrel a day capacity.

The new Yemeni president, Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, visited the Saudi capital of Riyadh this month and was welcomed by King Abdullah, who told Hadi that his country would donate enough fuel to Yemen to meet its needs for two months, Yemen’s state-run SABA news agency said. The donation of 500,000 tons of fuel products is valued at $600 million, SABA said.

Hadi was elected president of the Arab world’s poorest country last month, replacing Saleh under the Gulf-brokered plan. Hadi will run Yemen during a two-year transition in which a new constitution is to be drafted and the army forces restructured.

Iran Influence

Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, vies with Iran, the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, for influence in the Middle East. The U.S. sees Iran as trying “to exploit uncertainty and unhappiness in countries of the region,” including Yemen, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told reporters today at the American Embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a.

“We do view with concern reports of rising Iranian influence in parts of Yemen,” Feltman said. “We are working with the government of Yemen and our partners elsewhere in the region to push back against Iranian interference where it occurs.”

Saudi Arabia’s Sunni leaders have accused Shiite-ruled Iran of provoking unrest in Bahrain and in Shiite areas in the kingdom’s oil producing Eastern Province. Iran has denied the accusation and says Shiites in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain suffer discrimination.

The kingdom lost more than 100 soldiers in a three-month battle against Shiite Houthi rebels that ended in February 2010. The Houthis, so-called because of the family name of their leaders, began fighting the government in Yemen’s northern province of Saada in 2004.

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