January 11, 2010 in Nation/World

Yemeni leader shows leniency

President open to talks with al-Qaida members
Lee Keath Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

A Yemeni soldier checks a driver’s identity card and searches for weapons, at a checkpoint in the capital Sana, Yemen on Sunday. Yemen’s president said he is ready to open a dialogue with al-Qaida fighters who lay down their weapons and renounce violence, despite U.S. pressure to crack down on the terror group.
(Full-size photo)

No plans for U.S. troop deployment

 WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama says he has no intention of sending American troops to Yemen or Somalia.

 Obama told People magazine in an interview to be published Friday that he still believes the center of al-Qaida activity is along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

 “I never rule out any possibility in a world that is this complex,” Obama said. However, he said, “in countries like Yemen, in countries like Somalia, I think working with international partners is most effective at this point.”

 “I have no intention of sending U.S. boots on the ground in these regions,” Obama said.

 Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, said Yemen’s foreign minister has made it “quite clear that Yemen does not want to have American ground troops there. And that’s a … good response for us to hear, certainly.”

Associated Press

SANA, Yemen – Yemen’s president said he is ready to talk to al-Qaida members who renounce violence, suggesting he could show them the same leniency he has granted militants in the past.

Yemen is moving cautiously in the fight against al-Qaida, worried over a potential backlash in a country where anger at the U.S. and extremism are widespread. Thousands of Yemenis are battle-hardened veterans of past “holy wars” in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya and Iraq, and though most are not engaged in violence now they preserve a die-hard al-Qaida ideology.

“Any movement against al-Qaida will lead to the fall of the Yemeni regime,” warned Ali Mohammed Omar, a Yemeni who fought in Afghanistan from 1990-1992 and says he met Osama bin Laden twice during that time.

If the U.S. or its allies become directly involved, “the whole (Yemeni) people will become al-Qaida. Instead of 30 or 40 people, it would become millions,” he told the Associated Press in an interview.

Yemeni forces recently launched their heaviest strikes and raids against al-Qaida in years, and Washington has praised Sana for showing a new determination against al-Qaida’s offshoot in the country.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s comments raised the possibility he could continue a policy that has frustrated U.S. officials in the past: releasing al-Qaida militants on promises they will not engage in terrorism again. Several have since broken those promises and are believed to have returned to al-Qaida’s ranks.

“Dialogue is the best way … even with al-Qaida, if they set aside their weapons and return to reason,” Saleh said in an interview with Abu Dhabi TV aired Saturday.

He said Yemen would pursue those who continued violence, but “we are ready to reach an understanding with anyone who renounces violence and terrorism.”

In Yemen, “it is difficult to draw the line between who is a fundamentalist and who is al-Qaida. It’s a spectrum,” said Ali Saif Hassan, who runs a Yemeni group that mediates between the government and opposition.

But those with extremist thought “are everywhere, in the government, in the military, among the tribes and the wealthy,” he said, and some could oppose cooperation with the U.S. against al-Qaida.

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