Thursday, 19 May 2011

President Saleh agreed to sign US-backed and Saudi-led GCC deal


Yemen's political leadership has resolved the hurdles for a regionally-brokered deal that would lead to the departure of the president, a senior Yemeni official told CNN.

It comes one day after the head of a Gulf Arab alliance left Yemen without securing an agreement that would lead to the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and end the violent political turmoil in Yemen.

Previous attempts to reach a similar pact -- shepherded by the Gulf Cooperation Council -- also have come close to being finished, only to fall through. The opposition has been asserting that Saleh has been stalling all along.

"President Saleh has agreed to this definitively and the decision was made just hours ago. Now, they're just discussing the time and location of the signing," according to the official, who has asked not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

The official, who has been involved in the sensitive talks on the deal, said that Saleh's "reservations" have been "resolved."

"The GCC has been informed of this decision. After the signing, delegations representing the ruling party and the opposition will head to Saudi Arabia to cement the final details," the official said.

According to the source, the 30-day countdown for Saleh to step down will not start after the signing takes place. It will begin when the Yemeni delegations travel to Saudi Arabia for the signing.

The official did not know yet what specific issues would be left to discuss in Saudi Arabia.

It had been expected that the deal in question would be signed on Wednesday, but that effort fell apart.

According to senior opposition officials and one GCC mediator, who all asked not to be identified, Abdul Latif Zayani, general secretary of the coalition of Gulf Arab nations who has been mediating the crisis, became infuriated when Saleh refused to finalize the deal by providing five signatories from his side.

The officials said Saleh had asked Zayani to have five members each from the opposition Joint Meeting Parties and the government sign on to the deal to strengthen its validity.

After Zayani received the five JMP signatures, he asked Saleh to bring forth his five. Saleh refused, claiming the five signatories chosen by the JMP were not satisfactory, the officials said.

The two sides had reached the deal earlier in the day, boosting hopes that the political conflict that has led to anti-Saleh demonstrations throughout Yemen would be resolved.

Ahmed Soufi, Saleh's media adviser, said that "the difference took place when Mohammed Basendowah, the president of the opposition dialogue committee, was chosen to sign on behalf of the JMP instead of their president, Yaseen Noman. Saleh was angered and walked away."

"Basendowah has no right to sign the deal, and Saleh did not like this action by the JMP opposition," Soufi said. "The dialogue committee has no power in the Yemeni political arena. That is why Saleh refused to sign."

However, none of the opposition officials or the GCC mediator mentioned that this disagreement took place.

Along with the GCC, ambassadors from the United States and the European Union had also sought to persuade both sides to sign the deal Wednesday, said Ahmed Bahri, a senior official with the joint meeting parties bloc, a coalition of Yemeni opposition groups.

Saleh, who has held power in Yemen for 33 years, is unpopular in many quarters of the country, but he has been a stalwart U.S. ally against terrorism. Yemen has a strong presence of militants, particularly al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Earlier Wednesday, John Brennan, the top counterterrorism adviser in the White House, urged Saleh to sign the agreement and make way for political transition.

"This transfer of power represents the best path forward for Yemen to become a more secure, unified, and prosperous nation and for the Yemeni people to realize their aspirations for peace and political reform," Brennan said in a statement issued after his phone conversation with the embattled leader.

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