Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has authorized his deputy to negotiate a power transfer with the opposition, finally agreeing to a proposal by Gulf countries to put an end to a months-long political crisis, the state news agency Saba said Monday.

It said that Saleh, who has been absent from the country for more than three months, "has given the vice president Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi the necessary constitutional authority to negotiate" the power transfer mechanism with the opposition, Saba said.

The presidential decree authorizes Hadi to sign on Saleh's behalf the so-called Gulf Initiative, which was proposed by the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and calls for a power transfer. 

Hadi can "agree on a time-frame... and sign" the agreement, according to the decree.

Saleh, who has ruled Yemen since 1978 and has been recovering in Saudi Arabia from a June 3 attack on his presidential compound, also authorized Hadi to begin preparations for early presidential elections to be carried out under regional and international supervision.

Since his departure three months ago, Saleh had refused to hand over powers to his deputy or sign the Gulf Initiative. Saleh has previously backed out of the GCC deal on three separate occasions.

Observers say Saleh's decision to authorize his party to negotiate a transfer of power in his absence indicates he may not return to Yemen despite his previous vow to do so.