Yemeni officials claimed on Monday that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia pressured Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stay in Saudi Arabia after he was released from a lengthy hospital stay to treat wounds suffered in an assassination attempt.
The Associated Press cited officials who said the U.S. and Saudi Arabia warned Saleh that his return to Yemen would likely spark a civil war.
But U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said it was up to Saleh to decide whether to stay on in Saudi Arabia or return home. He added that a transition of power should begin immediately regardless of what Saleh decides to do.
“All we can do is continue to press our belief that this transition needs to happen immediately and cannot wait until a decision is made about his future,” AP quoted Toner as saying. “So, what we’re working on, through our embassy and our ambassador, is trying to move the process forward now, rather than wait.”
Saleh was wounded after his presidential compound was shelled in June, as part of growing violent clashes between his forces and opposition members. The rising violence, which began in late January, has brought Yemen to the brink of all-out civil war.
The Yemeni officials told AP that even though Saleh has spent the last two months in a Saudi hospital, he continues to run the country with the help of his family and is in daily contact with tribal chiefs and army commanders.
“The president reluctantly caved in to American and Saudi pressure to stay on in Saudi Arabia,” said one official. “He will continue to listen to them until he makes a full recovery from his wounds and then decide what to do.”
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) had brokered a deal that would secure a peaceful end to Saleh’s nearly 33-year rule. Saleh had initially accepted and then backed out of the deal. He later said during a television appearance after his wounding that participation with the opposition is welcomed within the framework of Yemen’s laws.
Meanwhile, a U.S. official cast doubts that American pressure on Saleh led him to stay in Riyadh.
“It is more likely that any persuasion used successfully with Saleh came from the Saudis,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AP.