Foreign Policy Blogs

War of Words in Yemen and Contradictions

A few days ago, the London based Saudi paper, Asharq al-Awsat, published that officials in Saudi Arabia are claiming that the US and the KSA have successfully convinced President Saleh to remain in Riyadh for good.

The paper further wrote that under the pressure of both of his strongest allies, the US and the KSA, Saleh would have somewhat agreed to sign a GCC agreement granting him total immunity from prosecution alongside his family members.

On the same day of the publication, the Yemeni government denied the statement in its entirety, saying that Ali Abdullah Saleh had never made such a deal and that his return was in no way probable, but rather certain. The Yemeni state news agency later published that Saleh “will return to the country following the period of recuperation that has been specified by his doctors,” quoting a Yemeni senior official.

The Regime

Today, Abdel-Hafez al-Nahari, the deputy head of the media department of the GPC, the ruling party, told Asharq al-Awsat, “the people of Yemen are awaiting the return of the President to exercise his constitutional duty. His return is not subject of debate, rather the General People’s Congress party and the Yemeni people are eagerly awaiting the return of the President, for his return is necessary to manage the crisis, because he represents the safety valve for all factions.” The deputy further added, “what has been circulated by some media outlets with regards to rumors that Saleh will not be returning to Yemen are nothing more than unsubstantial claims.”

Interestingly enough, al-Nahari stressed in his phone interview with the Saudi paper that the US was fully backing up Saleh in his political struggle and in his determination to return as acting President. “The US position today towards the situation in Yemen is more understanding than at any time before, and they are aware that the return of the President is part of the solution, not part of the problem. The Americans also understand that change must take place on the basis of the [Yemeni] constitution and the people’s will.”

When asked about the negotiations which allegedly took place in Riyadh in between the regime and the opposition, al-Nahari said that there was no truth to it. “We in Yemen thank our allies for their efforts to preserve Yemeni unity, security, and stability. However we are not aware of any undisclosed negotiations taking place. He added “even if this were proven to be true we are afraid or concerned about this, because negotiation and dialogue are the only way to bring about change.”

The Media

Despite the Yemeni government’s best efforts at silencing rumors about Saleh’s political fate, reports of him being pressured by the White House and the Saudis continue to stream in the media. On Tuesday, diplomatic sources reportedly told Reuters that the US was trying to convince Saleh of prolonging his stay in Riyadh as his return to Yemen would spark a civil war. The sources did not specify whether the embattled Yemeni President responded positively or not to those wishes. However, the fact that Saleh agreed to be moved from the hospital to a private residence in the Saudi capital led many to believe that the 69 year-old dictator was coming around.

The Associated Press quoted on the same day Yemeni officials saying under cover of anonymity that, “the President reluctantly caved in to American and Saudi pressure to stay on in Saudi Arabia… he will continue to listen to them until he makes a full recovery from his wounds and then he will decide what to do.” They added later that although Saleh was in the KSA he was still very much leading Yemen, daily conversing with his son, Ahmed Saleh and his nephews, entrusting them to carry through his orders.

Mark Toner, the US Department spokesman did not actually shed much light on the matter by refusing to confirm clearly whether indeed the US and the KSA had brokered a deal with the Yemeni autocrat. He only said: “all we can do is continue to press our belief that this transition needs to happen immediately and cannot wait until a decision is made about his [Saleh’s] future. What we’re working on, through our embassy and our ambassador is trying to move the process forward now, rather than wait.”

A similar message was later conveyed by Gerard Feierstein, the US ambassador to Yemen when he told the radio Sawa: “We believe… dealing with political, economic and security problems in Yemen cannot happen without a transfer of power in the country, and the arrival of new leadership.”

The US ambassador also said that he was in talks with VP Hadi regarding a GCC proposal which would announce the terms of a timely transition of power. “I have met with Hadi 12 or 13 times since 3 June, and we are confident in him, he has met with a number of US officials and I believe he enjoys the complete confidence of Washington, not just to accomplish the transition of power, but to lead Yemen during this transitional period. We do not believe that it is possible to wait any longer, and we have complete confidence in [Yemeni Vice President] Hadi to complete the transition of power, all that we are waiting for is for President Saleh to sign the Gulf initiative.”

Meanwhile, the JMP, the Yemeni opposition parties’ umbrella is announcing that it will hold its first National Council of the Revolutionary Forces on August 17th, in a bid to unlock the current political stalemate and mobilize people’s dwindling support for politicians in favor of that of the tribes. The Council wants to become according to its own statement the “national guardians of the people’s revolution.”

But if Yemen’s politicians are still willing to sit at the negotiating table, al-Islah is hardening its tone, warning that if Saleh comes back it will declare war on the regime.

 

Author

Catherine Shakdam
Catherine Shakdam

Although French by birth, my studies and my professional life led me to live for many years in the United Kingdom and in the Middle East.
Armed with a Master in Finance, a Bachelor degree in Psychology and 5 languages under my belt I managed to make my way through the maze of the Trading World of Wall Street, as an equity consultant. However, my interest for Politics and the Middle East gave me the necessary push to launch me as a "writer". Since then, I have voiced my opinions via my Blog and various publications such as the Middle East Post, the Guardian UK, and now Foreign Policy Association. I currently live in London.

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