Source: The Wall Street Journal,
By OLIVER HOLMES, 03/02/2011
SAN'A, Yemen—Yemen's president and opposition members agreed to a deal late Wednesday that opponents said gives the president until year's end to work out a framework for his eventual exit and that would rule out handing down power to his son.
Yemenis demanded Mr. Saleh's ouster ahead of Wednesday's meeting between the president and opponents.
A government official confirmed late Wednesday that the sides had reached "common ground" on opposition demands, but gave no details.
The plan opposition leaders described, which would give President Ali Abdullah Saleh nearly a year to work out how he would eventually transfer power, would mark a softening from their demands earlier Wednesday that he step down this year.
Mr. Saleh, should he agree to a plan to transfer power, would become the third regional leader to step aside in the wave of protests against regimes across the region, following the ousters of Tunisia's Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.
Following weeks of unrest in Yemen as protesters sought Mr. Saleh's ouster and democratic reforms, Mr. Saleh's government met late Wednesday with representatives from the Joint Meeting Party, a coalition of opposition groups, both sides said.
Afterward, the Joint Meeting Party said in a statement: "The president agreed to determine the series of step that he will take to leave power, with no inheritance, during a period of time that will not extend beyond this year."
The government official familiar with the meeting wouldn't comment on whether the plan involves a departure date for Mr. Saleh.
"The plan proposed to the ruling party was favorably received," the official said, adding the government would issue a formal response statement Thursday.
Earlier Wednesday, opposition leaders offered Mr. Saleh a five-point plan of demands that called for the president to leave power by year's end and sought for all political parties in Yemen to confer on the best way to transfer power democratically.
A protest leader said early Thursday that any agreement by the sides wouldn't be accepted unless the president was to leave immediately, underscoring the distance that remains between many protesters and some Joint Meeting Party leaders, many of whom include politicians who have provided loyal opposition to Mr. Saleh for years.
Mr. Saleh, who has been in power for more than 30 years, has been an important regional ally for the U.S. Washington has provided millions of dollars in military aid to Mr. Saleh's government to help him battle an increasingly ambitious Yemen-based affiliate of al Qaeda.
The Yemen-based group claimed responsibility for the Christmas Day 2009 attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound jet and a thwarted plot to send explosives to the U.S. aboard cargo planes late last year.
The president said in February he wouldn't run for election when his term ends in 2013. In January, he said he wouldn't hand power over to his son Ahmed Saleh but the opposition have continued to voice concerns that he would do so.
Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Saleh told the White House that he regretted any "misunderstandings" created when he accused the U.S. of conspiring to foment Arab unrest, the White House said.
In a telephone call with John Brennan, President Barack Obama's top counterterrorism adviser, Mr. Saleh conveyed "his regret for misunderstandings related to his public remarks," according to a White House statement. Mr. Brennan told Mr. Saleh that the sentiments that were expressed were "unhelpful."
Mr. Saleh was quoted Tuesday as telling hundreds of students and academics at San'a University that he would "reveal a secret" that there is an "operations room in Tel Aviv with the aim of destabilizing the Arab world." He said the White House ran the operations room.
The White House statement didn't say whether Mr. Saleh clarified his position in the telephone call with Mr. Brennan.
U.S. officials have urged Mr. Saleh to implement political reforms to address the demands of opposition groups.