x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Clinton in Yemen on surprise visit

The US secretary of state has landed in Yemen on a surprise visit aimed at helping the president Ali Abdullah Saleh tackle the al Qa'eda terror network.

SANAA // US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Yemen on Tuesday on a surprise visit aimed at helping President Ali Abdullah Saleh tackle problems that allow Al-Qaeda to threaten his country and the West.

The first chief US diplomat to visit Yemen in more than 20 years, she said the trip was aimed at going beyond military cooperation to broach a “comprehensive strategy” for tackling Yemen’s myriad problems.

“We are partnering with Yemen and other countries in the Gulf and beyond against the threat of terrorism, in particular Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” Clinton told reporters on her arrival.

“Yemen recognises the threat AQAP poses to it and it has become increasingly committed to a broad-based counter-terrorism strategy,” she said.

“At the same time, we are committed to a balanced approach towards Yemen which includes social, economic, and political assistance,” she added.

The US embassy in Sanaa said Clinton was in Yemen for a half-day visit “bearing the message of a ‘long-term partnership.’”

Clinton, who is on a five-day tour of the Arabian peninsula, met Saleh for talks and lunch under heavy security at the presidential palace in this ancient city renowned for its ornate mud-brick buildings.

“We face a common threat by the terrorists in Al-Qaeda,” Clinton told reporters as she stood with Saleh on the steps of the presidential palace. “We are focused not just on short-term threats but on long-term challenges.”

Saleh made no remarks.

The United States supports “an inclusive political process that will in turn support a unified, prosperous, stable, democratic Yemen,” said Clinton, who then toured the old city in a convoy of armoured vehicles.

The Yemeni embassy in Washington released a statement saying: “Yemen is keen on continuing bilateral discussions to address development and security challenges.”

Saleh’s government is fighting not just AQAP, but also rebels in the north, secessionists in the south, an acute water shortage, vanishing oil revenues and a deep economic crisis.

US-based analysts fear Yemen’s problems are so serious the country risks becoming a failed state like Somalia and allowing Al-Qaeda to take a firm grip on both sides of the world’s oil shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.

“We have rebalanced our aid package so it is not so disproportionately consisting of the counter-terrorism funding but also includes these other priorities,” Clinton told reporters.

In 2010, the United States provided Yemen with $130 million (100.4 billion euros) for development and $170 million for military aid, according to a US official.

Much as it has been doing for years in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- the front line on the war against Al-Qaeda -- the United States has sharply boosted development assistance as well as military aid in past months.

Washington says it is running programmes aimed at increasing jobs, helping farmers, building schools and improving health care for Yemenis who lack adequate services in remote regions.

Clinton said the next international Friends of Yemen meeting will gather in a month or two in Saudi Arabia to discuss setting up a trust fund to help Yemen tackle its problems.

Public interest in Yemen has grown since a botched bid on Christmas Day 2009 to blow up a US airliner over Detroit by a Nigerian passenger allegedly trained by the Yemeni-based AQAP.

The group has also taken credit for a foiled air cargo bomb plot in October, in which printer toner cartridges that had been rigged as bombs were shipped from Sanaa and, according to investigators, set to explode over the United States.

One of the leaders of the group is Anwar al-Awlaqi, a US-Yemeni citizen believed at large in the vast and lawless tribal areas. He is now viewed by Washington as a threat on a par with Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Clinton is the first secretary of state to visit Yemen since James Baker did in 1990.

Recent US visitors to Yemen have included US President Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan as well as General David Petraeus, who visited when he was the chief US military commander for the Middle East.

Clinton will likely use efforts at damage control after leaked US diplomatic cables alleged Saleh admitted lying to his own people by pretending US military strikes against Al-Qaeda are carried out by Yemeni forces.