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Saudis may be key to a Yemen solution

Posted by on June 8, 2011 0 Comment

Saudi Arabia where wounded President Ali Abdullah Saleh is recuperating could be the key to solving the political turmoil in Yemen by pressing the veteran leader to transfer power

or at least by impeding his return, analysts say.

A much weakened Saleh still clings to power from his sickbed, oblivious to four-months-old protests, growing international pressure and Friday’s attack that could have killed him and other top figures in his embattled regime.

Wounded by an explosion as he prayed at a mosque inside the presidential compound in Sanaa, Saleh was transferred late on Saturday to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment, but he has not stood down as president.

Saleh’s presence in Riyadh ‘might provide an opportunity for the kingdom’ to revive its efforts towards a political settlement in neighbouring Yemen, whose stability is ‘a strategic interest to Riyadh,’ said Ibrahim Sharqieh, deputy director of the Brookings Doha Centre.

‘Saleh’s position weakens with every day that passes, diminishing his chances of returning to Sanaa,’ said Sharqieh who sees stability in the Arabian Peninsula state as ‘a national security issue.’

Yemen’s opposition, backed by young protesters, has vowed to prevent Saleh’s return to power and both the United States and Britain have urged an ‘immediate transition.’

Saleh’s deputy has said the president will return to Sanaa within days to take the helm of his teetering regime again.

French journalist Olivier Da Lage, author of the ‘Geopolitics of Saudi Arabia,’ also sees Saudi Arabia as holding the reins of Yemeni politics.

‘I think Saudi Arabia is strongly discouraging his return to Yemen,’ said Da Lage, who believes that the oil-rich kingdom ‘is the main actor in Yemen.’

However the kingdom, which ‘has most of the keys and can influence’ politics in its impoverished neighbour, cannot ‘control the course of events’ there.

He believes the Saudis ‘can use the weapon which they best know — money.’

Relations between Yemen’s regime and the Gulf monarchy have improved over the past decade, especially after the settlement of a border dispute in 2000 and after the determination Saleh has shown in fighting ‘terrorism.’

But Saudi Arabia, a key player in the Middle East, also maintains strong ties with Yemen’s powerful opposition Al Ahmar tribe which has fought deadly battles with troops loyal to Saleh in which 140 people were killed since May 23.

For years the kingdom has offered financial support to the heavily armed tribe which Saleh has blamed for the attack on his compound.

Saleh’s ties with his Gulf neighbours have chilled after he repeatedly refused to sign a transition deal that would have seen him quit within 30 days in return for immunity from prosecution.

The deal was initiated by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, led by Saudi Arabia.

The GCC states suspended their mediation efforts in Yemen on May 22 after armed Saleh supporters surrounded GCC secretary general Abdullatif Al Zayani and Western envoys inside the UAE embassy in Sanaa, in what seemed to be a bid to stop him reaching Saleh’s palace to close the deal.

On Monday, the GCC members said that their proposed exit deal for Saleh remained the ‘most suitable solution.’

Abdulaziz Sager, chairman of the Gulf Research Centre, said he expects the Saudis to ‘ask Saleh to sign the GCC plan during his stay in Riyadh.’

Such a signing, that would be seen as a way out for the embattled Saleh, ‘might take place during the next GCC meeting in Riyadh.’

A senior Saudi official has said that the wounded Saleh was brought to Riyadh for treatment at his own request ‘and for purely humanitarian reasons.’

A suitable solution would be to find a country that would grant Saleh asylum to ‘protect him from prosecution,’ added the official who requested anonymity.

By leaving for Saudi Arabia, Saleh automatically transferred power to his deputy Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi and ‘technically began implementing the initiative’ under which Hadi would take over after 30 days, Sager said. Khaleej Times

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