Hillary Clinton broadens Qaeda fight in Yemen trip

Hillary is the first chief US diplomat to visit Yemen in more than 20 years.

Updated: Jan 11, 2011, 22:46 PM IST

Sana`a: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton landed in Yemen on Tuesday on a surprise visit aimed at helping President Ali Abdullah Saleh tackle problems that allow al Qaeda to threaten his country and the West.

The first chief US diplomat to visit Yemen in more than 20 years, she said the trip was aimed at going beyond military cooperation to broach a "comprehensive strategy" to resolve Yemen`s myriad problems.

"We are partnering with Yemen and other countries in the Gulf and beyond against the threat of terrorism, in particular al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," Clinton said on her arrival.

"Yemen recognises the threat AQAP poses to it and it has become increasingly committed to a broad-based counter-terrorism strategy," she said.

"At the same time, we are committed to a balanced approach towards Yemen which includes social, economic and political assistance," she added.

The US embassy in Sanaa said Clinton was in Yemen for a half-day visit "bearing the message of a `long-term partnership.`"

Clinton, who is on a five-day tour of the Arabian peninsula, met Saleh for talks and lunch under heavy security at the presidential palace.

"We face a common threat by the terrorists in al Qaeda," Clinton told reporters. "We are focused not just on short-term threats but on long-term challenges."

The Yemeni embassy in Washington released a statement saying: "Yemen is keen on continuing bilateral discussions to address development and security challenges."

Speaking later at a town-hall meeting, Clinton said she was in Yemen to show the United States shared its commitment in the fight against al Qaeda and other extremists who posed a threat in the country and beyond.

But she stressed it was a joint vision for a unified, stable, democratic and prosperous Yemen where civil society had the room to operate and al Qaeda did not.

"Empowering the Yemeni people to solve your own problems is the most effective tool a society has," she said. "Holding back civil society is the holding back the whole society."

Saleh`s government is fighting not just AQAP, but also rebels in the north, secessionists in the south, an acute water shortage, vanishing oil revenues and a deep economic crisis.

US-based analysts fear Yemen`s problems are so serious the country risks becoming a failed state like Somalia and allowing al Qaeda to take a firm grip on both sides of the world`s oil shipping lanes in the Gulf of Aden.

"We have rebalanced our aid package so it is not so disproportionately consisting of the counter-terrorism funding but also includes these other priorities," Clinton told reporters.

In 2010, the United States provided Yemen with $130 million (100.4 billion euros) for development and $170 million for military aid, according to a US official.

Washington has sharply boosted development assistance as well as military aid in past months.

It says it is running programmes aimed at increasing jobs, helping farmers, building schools and improving health care for Yemenis who lack adequate services in remote regions.

Clinton said the next international Friends of Yemen meeting will gather in a month or two in Saudi Arabia to discuss setting up a trust fund to help Yemen tackle its problems.

Interest in Yemen has grown since a botched bid on Christmas Day 2009 to blow up a US airliner over Detroit by a Nigerian passenger allegedly trained by the Yemeni-based AQAP.

The group has also taken credit for a foiled air cargo bomb plot in October, in which printer toner cartridges that had been rigged as bombs were shipped from Sanaa and, according to investigators, set to explode over the United States.

One of the leaders of the group is Anwar al-Awlaqi, a US-Yemeni citizen believed at large in the vast and lawless tribal areas. He is now viewed by Washington as a threat on a par with al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

Clinton will likely use efforts at damage control after leaked US diplomatic cables alleged Saleh admitted lying to his own people by pretending US military strikes against al Qaeda are carried out by Yemeni forces.

Bureau Report