US seeks international support for Yemen against Al Qaeda

The United States is set to hold talks with European and Arab partners in London on Wednesday to try to rally support behind a drive to help Yemen defeat a growing Al Qaeda threat.

The impetus for the meeting comes from a botched bid on Christmas Day to blow up a US airliner over Detroit by a Nigerian passenger allegedly trained by the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

Though there has been no official confirmation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will likely attend the meeting in London which comes days after Britain raised its terrorism threat assessment from substantial to severe.

The United States hopes donors will speed up aid previously pledged to Sanaa to help it tackle a set of growing troubles threatening the stability of a country some analysts call a "failing state."

However, persuading donors to deliver on all of the 4.7 billion dollars pledged at a London conference in 2006 apparently depends on whether Yemen can carry out the reforms needed to reassure them the funds will be spent properly.

US officials did not explicitly make the link, but did not deny one.

Clinton spoke of a "common threat" from violent extremists when she appeared in Washington last Thursday with Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Kurbi as they discussed Yemen's problems and plans for the London conference.

"We have seen al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula kill tourists in Yemen, Yemeni security officers, and being involved in the training and equipping of the perpetrator on the attempted Christmas Day airline bomber," she told reporters.

Her spokesman Philip Crowley said later that Clinton pressed Kurbi on the need for Sanaa to do more to promote "development and creation of economic opportunity as a tool to help reduce both extremism and conflict within Yemen."

Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government is not only grappling with the AQAP but also a Shiite rebellion in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, a water shortage and a crumbling economy.

Crowley said the chief US diplomat also pressed Kurbi on his government's plans for not only defeating Al-Qaeda but also resolving a Shiite revolt.

The meeting is "not going to be a donors conference, per se, but just simply to outline what we think the most significant requirements that Yemen has to be able to stabilize itself," Crowley said.

"The secretary pledged that we will look to see how we, in the most urgent areas, how we can speed up assistance," Crowley said, confirming that aid from the 2006 conference was slow in coming.

Kurbi said he believes donors now realize "the delay in implementation (of aid) is not the fault of the Yemeni government," but rather the result of "bureaucratic" and "technical" issues.

But a senior State Department official said three weeks ago on the condition of anonymity that donors have hesitated to deliver on their pledges amid doubts about accountability in the country.

Marisa Porges, a former US government advisor on counter-terrorism now with the Council on Foreign Relations, said the London meeting will help put the international community "on the same page" on how to tackle Yemen's problems.

It will also "put pressure on Yemen's leadership to live up to expectations, or have the response that would be most helpful to solve the situation," whether it is Al Qaeda, the rebellion or other issues, she said.

Analyst Daniel Byman said in remarks earlier this month on the Brookings Institution website that the problem in Yemen was far more complicated than simply shoring up a fragile government.

He noted that the Saleh government had been "half-hearted" in taking on Al Qaeda in the past, partly because it used the group to fight its domestic enemies, and Sanaa may want to keep such an option open in the future.

"We have to watch this one closely," he said.

The United States for its part has been helping Yemen to train and equip its forces since 2006, and officials say its contribution is expected to rise to 63 million dollars in development and security assistance in the 2010 fiscal year.

Both countries are sharing intelligence and the United States is widely suspected of having helped Yemeni forces conduct airstrikes against Al-Qaeda targets in the past few weeks.

 

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