August 8, 2011

The Myth of "U.S. Pressure on Saleh"

Yesterday local Yemeni reports hinted at U.S. pressure against Ali Abdullah Saleh. With the help of the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat, the U.S. media has blown this development out of proportion without a serious effort to understand it. Today the State Department could barely explain U.S. policy towards Yemen, Saleh and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), disproving any notion that Washington cares about the Yemeni people. Spokesman Mark Toner placed a heavy emphasis on not wasting any more time, when the latest “U.S. pressure” to remain in Saudi Arabia is nothing more than a new stall tactic to posture and reorganize.

Contrary to Toner's remarks, the Yemeni people do not support the GCC's initiative. Under its terms, half of a transitional council would go to Saleh’s General People’s Congress (GPC), violating the revolutionary council announced on July 17th and all those who have sacrificed their lives for freedom. Nor is Vice President Abd al-Rab Mansur al-Hadi capable of controlling Saleh’s security apparatus or overseeing a transitional period. Washington wants to stash Saleh in a Saudi bank and keep his regime on life-support through snap-elections. Yemen’s people would be denied justice because Washington doesn’t want Saleh to snitch on U.S. military assistance.

A full report on the administration’s latest actions will be released tomorrow:
QUESTION: So on Yemen, there was a report today in Asharq Al-Awsat that the U.S. has persuaded President Saleh to remain in Saudi Arabia and not to return to Yemen. Is that correct?

MR. TONER: Well, look, it’s – as all of you know, we’ve had conversations with President Saleh during his recuperation in Saudi Arabia. I can’t get into the details of those conversations. But our position has not changed, speaking globally. We’ve called for an immediate, peaceful, and orderly transition, and believe that’s in the best interests of the Yemeni people. And we’ve also said that this is something that cannot wait until a decision is made regarding President Saleh’s future, that we’ve got an acting president, and – in place, and they need to – they need to move towards this transition immediately.

QUESTION: Well, has there been any change in terms of his decisions to – whether to essentially stay long term in Saudi or to go back? I mean, are you aware of any --

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’ve – we have had – John Brennan from the White House is one individual, but have had conversations with President Saleh. But in terms of his future, that’s something I’d really have to refer you to him for.

QUESTION: When was the last time he had a conversation?

MR. TONER: I don't know, Matt. I’ll find out.

QUESTION: Is it your understanding, though, that he – it is now his intent to stay in Saudi Arabia or not?

MR. TONER: I don’t have an answer for you. I don't know.

QUESTION: Can you ask?

MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s – I’m not sure that it’s something that we would necessarily need to announce from here. That’s something ultimately that President Saleh needs to determine and announce, either through the Government of Yemen or through himself.

QUESTION: In this persuasion, if you succeed in persuading him to stay in Saudi Arabia, a sign that he’s letting go of his grip on power?

MR. TONER: Again, these are questions really best directed to President Saleh and to his inner circle that’s with him or to the Government of Yemen in Sanaa. 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 future.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: So is it your understanding that his grip on power remains as it was?

MR. TONER: We – our understanding, we continue – our Ambassador Feierstein and Embassy personnel continue to meet with acting President Hadi as well as with senior government officials directly in order to move this process forward.

QUESTION: All right. Getting back to the original --

MR. TONER: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- question, though, does the Administration think that it’s a good thing for him not to go back?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s – we’ve been through this before. What we think is a good thing is that Yemen move forward immediately on a transition plan that meets the aspirations of the Yemeni people --

QUESTION: Yeah. But --

MR. TONER: -- and that Saleh’s future is for Saleh to decide.

QUESTION: But with or without him in the country?

MR. TONER: Well, he’s not in the country right now, so we believe it can move forward without him.

QUESTION: Well, so do you think it’s a good thing – so it can move forward without him and you would prefer to see it move forward without him?

MR. TONER: I’ll say it can move forward without him.

QUESTION: But that’s what you want?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s not for us – it’s not what we want. It’s what the Yemeni people want.

QUESTION: No, no, no. Wait, wait.

QUESTION: You said you want it immediately.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. You just said --

MR. TONER: Yes. I’m --

QUESTION: And that means you want it without him.

MR. TONER: All I’m saying is –

QUESTION: You said this is something that --

MR. TONER: Yeah. You’re trying to make – you’re trying to have me make a determination about whether he stays in Saudi Arabia or not.

QUESTION: No. I’m not trying to --

MR. TONER: That’s his – okay.

QUESTION: No. I’m not asking you to make that determination. I want to know if that determination has been made by anyone in this building. I mean, the question was: Did the U.S. --

MR. TONER: It has not. This is a – that’s a decision for President Saleh.

QUESTION: So did the U.S. tell President Saleh that it would be a better idea for him to stay in Saudi and not to go – or just not to go home, whether he stays in Saudi or not, that it was best – it would be better for all concerned if he stayed out of the country?

MR. TONER: And again, that’s a decision, ultimately, he’ll make and talk about.

QUESTION: Of course.

MR. TONER: Our position is, whether he remains in Saudi Arabia or not, time is wasting in terms of seizing the opportunity, the GCC agreement, moving forward on a transition. So what we’re working on through our Embassy and our ambassador is trying to move the process forward now rather than wait.

QUESTION: But in the – in a previous set of questions, you said that the U.S. was pleased and heartened that the GCC and Arab League had come out with such strong statements about Syria. And you said that you had been talking to them about this, and that this – while it may not be the direct result of your talking to them about it, that that was a good thing. So is President Saleh, who you say you have talked to – is his staying out of Yemen a good thing?

MR. TONER: Again, it’s simply not our decision to determine whether he stays or goes.

QUESTION: Well, you have a position on it.

MR. TONER: We believe that, whether he stays in Saudi Arabia or comes back to Yemen, that Yemen needs to move forward now on these kinds of reforms and on this transition.

QUESTION: And Mark, when was the last time U.S. officials were in touch with President Saleh?

MR. TONER: I know. He asked me the same question. I’ll find out.


QUESTION: Mark, is it not fair to say, to follow up on one of Matt’s questions, that you do want the transition to go forward without President Saleh?

MR. TONER: Correct. We believe President – acting President Hadi is fully capable of moving the process forward.

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