WASHINGTON – The Obama administration, anxious to deny al-Qaida’s most dangerous offshoot more space in which to flourish, urged Yemen’s wounded president on Monday to immediately step aside and clear the way for a transfer of power aimed at averting all-out civil war.
The administration’s call came as U.S. diplomats worked with Saudi Arabian and European officials to revive a plan to replace Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh with a national unity government and end violence that has killed scores of people and splintered the regime, the Yemeni military and the country’s powerful tribes.
There was no sign that Saleh, who was in Saudi Arabia being treated for a wound he sustained Friday in a rocket attack, was ready to step down. Vice President Abed Rabbo Masour Hadi told European diplomats that Saleh’s “health is improving greatly and he will return to the country in the coming days,” according to the state-run news agency.
The return of Saleh, 68, who has held power since 1978, could lead to further bloodshed.
Washington is worried that al-Qaida’s local branch, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, could exploit the growing unrest to expand a sanctuary in Yemen from which to launch attacks on neighboring Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil producer, and U.S. targets.
“We are calling for a peaceful and orderly transition, a nonviolent transition that is consistent with Yemen’s own constitution,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday.