WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared Monday that Yemen is a threat to global security but warned that the Obama administration will continue accelerating U.S. aid only if the Yemeni government meets U.S. demands to take steps toward stability.
Clinton signaled a growing administration focus on the beleaguered Arabian state, saying Yemen has become a launching pad for terrorist attacks on distant corners of the world and singling out the attempted Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound jetliner by a Nigerian man allegedly trained by Yemeni militants.
“We see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al-Qaida in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks from beyond the region,” she said during an appearance at the State Department with Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Jabr al-Thani.
She spoke on a day when Yemeni security forces killed two suspected al-Qaida militants northeast of the capital of Sana, in an area where the government last month struck an al-Qaida cell believed to be plotting attacks on foreign embassies.
Meanwhile, the U.S. and British embassies in Yemen remained closed for a second day Monday because of what Clinton termed “ongoing threats” of attacks. France, Germany and Japan also closed their embassies Monday, citing threats by al-Qaida.
Top administration officials were set to gather at the White House today for a meeting on the airline attack, in which a Nigerian man tried to use a hidden bomb to blow up a plane bound for Detroit.
President Barack Obama will meet with officials from the CIA, Homeland Security Department and other agencies, partly to give his assessment of “what needs to be fixed,” a senior Obama administration official said. The meeting will be held in the White House situation room and will be a forum for the president to deliver a “clear message,” the administration official said, that “this is unacceptable.”
International concern over Yemen has grown since the Christmas airline plot. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, told authorities he trained with al-Qaida extremists in Yemen before boarding Northwest Flight 253 with a one-way ticket purchased in cash and a potent explosive hidden in his underwear.
As the government’s review of the incident continues, officials are taking a hard look at the ways they identify potential threats to the air traffic system.
U.S. intelligence officials have been examining three separate lists. One is a list of 550,000 people, all considered known or suspected terrorists. A second list of 14,000 includes people who would be subjected to intensive screening when they show up at an airport. Then there is the “no-fly” list – 4,000 people who are barred from boarding a plane altogether.
Since the attempted bombing of the Northwest plane, officials have moved several hundred names to “no fly” status or to the list that exposes them to additional airport screening, one U.S. intelligence official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In her remarks Monday, Clinton praised the Yemeni government’s cooperation but said that the United States and its allies have “expectations and conditions” Yemen must meet to continue the flow of foreign aid it badly needs.
The Obama administration wants Yemeni officials, who face rebellions in the country’s south and north, “to take steps that will lead to a more lasting period of peace and stability,” Clinton said.
“There have been numerous conflicts in Yemen, and they seem to just get worse and worse with more players involved now,” Clinton said. “It’s time for the international community to make it clear to Yemen that there are expectations and conditions on our continuing support for the government.”
The Yemeni government is eager for more U.S. military and economic aid, but its goals differ from the Americans’, which focus primarily on the terrorist threat in western areas.
Amid the rising U.S. concern, analysts predict more strikes in the country by unmanned U.S. drone aircraft. U.S. officials say they expect total aid to Yemen for development and security this year to reach $63 million, which would be a 56 percent increase over fiscal 2009.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the decision had been made to shut the embassy after U.S. officials received a “very specific threat” to U.S. interests.
Kelly said an embassy committee has met daily to decide whether it is safe to reopen the facility. He acknowledged that U.S. officials have stopped short of the most drastic step, an “ordered departure,” because of a belief that the danger may become manageable.