Source: Bloomberg, By Vivian Salama ,03/12/2010
- Security in Yemen, where insurgencies have diminished the government’s authority and given al-Qaeda a base for attacks, will be among the issues discussed by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she attends a conference with Middle East counterparts today.
The threat from Yemen was underscored in October when two parcel-bombs sent from the country to U.S. synagogues were seized in the U.K. and Dubai. Clinton has pledged to strengthen the Yemeni military and accelerate development of the poorest Arab economy, which is battling separatist groups as well as al- Qaeda.
“If you have an unstable environment which becomes an incubator for extremism, they will reach out and hit the United States and Europe if it is left unchecked,” said Magnus Ranstorp, research director at the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College in Stockholm. Yemen’s government has little control over security outside the capital Sana’a, limiting its ability to fight al-Qaeda, he said.
The threat posed by al-Qaeda in Yemen will be “of particular focus” at the conference, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters on Dec. 1. He said other key issues to be addressed include the prospects of Middle East peace talks and the influence of Iran.
Yemen will present a report at the conference on its fight against terrorism and the reasons for its spread, Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi told the state news agency Saba.
Clinton’s efforts to win backing for U.S. policy in the region come in the midst of controversies touched off by the publication by WikiLeaks.org of U.S. diplomatic cables, some of them detailing confidential communications with Middle Eastern leaders.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah urged the U.S. to attack Iran to halt its nuclear program, and other pro-American Arab leaders also backed action against the Islamic republic, according to New York Times reports of the documents. Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is due to attend today’s conference, along with officials from Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other countries.
Clinton will give a speech in the opening session late today. Before that, she’s due to meet other attendees, and government and civil society leaders from host nation Bahrain.
The bombing attempts in October, using devices concealed in printer cartridges, prompted the U.S. and European countries to bar flights or cargo from Yemen. A plot to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it landed in Detroit on Dec. 25 last year was claimed by the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda.
Yemen, which gets about $300 million a year in security and humanitarian assistance from the U.S., stepped up operations against al-Qaeda after that, including air strikes targeting the group’s camps. Military aid to Yemen is $155 million in fiscal 2010, including Huey helicopters, Hummer vehicles and night- goggles, the Pentagon said in August.
The U.S. has prioritized security assistance above development, said Barbara Bodine, U.S. ambassador to Yemen from 1997 to 2001, in a phone interview. That gives Yemenis the message “that we are not concerned about the poverty, about developing the state, that we really just want to go out and kill a couple of al-Qaeda guys,” she said.
Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace ranked Yemen 15th of 60 countries on their 2010 Failed States Index, saying only Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are in worse shape among nations in Asia and the Middle East. Yemen has per-capita output of about $1,100 a year and one of the world’s most acute water shortages, the World Bank says.
Clinton told Congress in February that the U.S. is seeking to build an international effort “aimed at going after the terrorists, strengthening the military capacity of Yemen, and creating a development strategy.”