United States – Yemen relations: Wikis


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United States – Yemen relations
United States   Yemen
Map indicating location of USA and Yemen
     United States      Yemen

Traditionally, United States – Yemen relations have been tepid, as the lack of strong military-to-military ties, commercial relations, and support of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has hindered the development of strong bilateral ties. During the early years of the George W. Bush administration, relations improved under the rubric of the war on terror, though Yemen's lax policy toward wanted terrorists has stalled additional US support.[1]



The United States established diplomatic relations with the Imamate in 1946. A resident legation, later elevated to embassy status, was opened in Taiz (the capital at the time) on March 16, 1959 and moved to Sanaa in 1966. The United States was one of the first countries to recognize the Yemen Arab Republic, doing so on December 19, 1962. A major US Agency for International Development (USAID) program constructed the Mocha-Taiz-Sanaa highway and the Kennedy memorial water project in Taiz, as well as many smaller projects. On June 6, 1967, the YAR, under Egyptian influence, broke diplomatic relations with the United States in the wake of the Arab-Israeli conflict of that year. Secretary of State William P. Rogers restored relations following a visit to Sanaa in July 1972, and a new USAID agreement was concluded in 1973.[2]

On December 7, 1967, the United States recognized the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen and elevated its Consulate General in Aden to embassy status. However, relations were strained. The PDRY was placed on the list of nations that support terrorism. On October 24, 1969, south Yemen formally broke diplomatic relations with the United States. The United States and the PDRY reestablished diplomatic relations on April 30, 1990, only 3 weeks before the announcement of unification. However, the embassy in Aden, which closed in 1969, was never reopened, and the PDRY as a political entity no longer exists.[2]

During a 1979 border conflict between the Yemen Arab Republic and the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, the United States cooperated with Saudi Arabia to greatly expand the security assistance program to the YAR by providing F-5 aircraft, tanks, vehicles and training. George H.W. Bush, while Vice President, visited in April 1986, and President Ali Abdullah Saleh visited the United States in January 1990. The United States had a $42 million USAID program in 1990. From 1973 to 1990, the United States provided the YAR with assistance in the agriculture, education, and health and water sectors. Many Yemenis were sent on US government scholarships to study in the region and in the United States. There was a Peace Corps program with about 50 volunteers. The US Information Service operated an English-language institute in Sanaa.[2]

In 1990, as a result of Yemen's actions in the UN Security Council following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the United States drastically reduced its presence in Yemen including canceling all military cooperation, non-humanitarian assistance, and the Peace Corps program. USAID levels dropped in FY 1991 to $2.9 million, but food assistance through the PL 480 and PL 416(b) programs continued through 2006. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided 30,000 metric tons of soybean meal that were sold for approximately $7.5 million to finance programs in support of Yemen's agricultural sector.[2]

The United States was actively involved in and strongly supportive of parliamentary elections in 1993 as well as the 2006 presidential and local council elections, and continues working to strengthen Yemen's democratic institutions. The USAID program, focused in the health field, had slowly increased to $8.5 million in FY 1995, but ended in FY 2000. It was reinvigorated in 2003 and a USAID office has re-opened in Sanaa. Yemen has also received significant funding from the Middle East Partnership Initiative. Funds went, in large part, to support literacy projects, election monitoring, training for civil society, and the improvement of electoral procedures.[2]

Recent history

Defense relations between Yemen and the United States are improving rapidly, with the resumption of International Military Education and Training assistance and the transfer of military equipment and spare parts. In FY 2006 U.S. Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Yemen was $8.42 million, International Military Education and Training (IMET) was $924,000, and Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, Demining and Related Programs (NADR) was $1.4 million. In FY 2006 Yemen also received $7.9 million in Economic Support Funds (ESF), $10 million in Food for Progress (Title 1) assistance, and $5 million in Section 1206 funding.[2]

In November 2006, a World Bank-sponsored international donors conference held in London raised $4.7 billion for Yemen's development; the funds are to be disbursed between 2007 and 2010.[2]

Currently, Yemen is an important partner in the global war on terrorism, providing assistance in the military, diplomatic, and financial arenas. President Ali Abdullah Saleh visited Washington, DC, in November 2001. Since that time, Yemen has stepped up its counter-terrorism cooperation efforts with the United States, achieving significant results and improving overall security in Yemen. President Saleh returned to Washington in June 2004 when he was invited to attend the G-8 Sea Island Summit. The Summit was an excellent forum for Yemen to share its democratic reform experiences, and it has agreed to participate in future activities detailed in the Sea Island charter. In November 2005 and May 2007, President Saleh again visited high-level officials in Washington, including President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.[2]

The US embassy in Sanaa was hit by bomb blasts in the 2008 Yemeni American embassy attack. The US had evacuated all non-essential personnel from Yemen earlier in the year after mortar bombs had been fired towards the embassy.[3]

Foreign aid

A Yemeni doctor examines an infant in a USAID-sponsored health care clinic.

Over the past several fiscal years, Yemen has received on average between $20 and $25 million annually in total U.S. foreign aid. For FY2009, the Administration has requested $28.2 million in assistance for Yemen, an increase from its $20.7 million aid package in FY2008. Between FY2006 and FY2007, Yemen also received approximately $31.5 million from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Section 1206 account. Section 1206 Authority is a Department of Defense account designed to provide equipment, supplies, or training to foreign national military forces engaged in counter-terrorist operations. The primary recipients of the 1206 support are the Yemeni Special Operations Forces [YSOF], the Yemeni Army 11th Brigade, and the Yemeni Ministry of Defense’s primary logistics support command known as the Central Repair Base.[1]

U.S. economic aid to Yemen also supports democracy and governance programming. For almost five years, the National Democratic Institute (NDI) has run programs in Yemen’s outlying provinces to support conflict resolution strategies designed to end revenge killings among tribes.[1]

In November 2005, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) suspended Yemen’s eligibility for assistance under its threshold program, concluding that, after Yemen was named as a potential aid candidate in FY2004, corruption in the country had increased. Yemen became eligible to reapply in November 2006 and had its eligibility reinstated in February 2007, nearly six months after it held what some observers described as a relatively successful presidential election.[1]

Yemen’s threshold program was approved on September 12, 2007. However, after reports of Jamal al Badawi’s release from prison surfaced a month later, the MCC canceled a ceremony to inaugurate the $20.6 million threshold grant, stating that the agency is “reviewing its relationship with Yemen.” Since then, there have been no reports on the status of MCC assistance to Yemen.[1]

Intelligence cooperation and dispute over Yemen's counterterrorism policies

In the immediate aftermath of the Cole bombing, U.S. officials complained that Yemeni authorities were not cooperative in the investigation. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Yemeni government became more forthcoming in its cooperation with the U.S. campaign to suppress Al Qaeda. President Saleh reportedly has allowed small groups of U.S. Special Forces troops and CIA agents to assist in identifying and rooting out Al Qaeda cadres hiding in Yemen, despite sympathy for Al Qaeda among many Yemenis. According to press articles quoting U.S. and Yemeni officials, the Yemeni government allowed U.S. personnel to launch a missile strike from an unmanned aircraft against an automobile in eastern Yemen in November 2002, killing six alleged terrorists, including Qaid Salim Sinan al Harithi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Yemen and a key planner of the attack on the USS Cole. Yemen then arrested al Harithi’s replacement, Muhammad Hamdi al Ahdal, a year later. The United States also has helped Yemen build and equip a modern coast guard used to patrol the strategic Bab al Mandab strait where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.[1]

Finally, the United States has provided technical assistance, equipment, and training to the Anti-Terrorism Unit [ATU] of the Yemeni Central Security forces and other Yemeni Interior Ministry departments.[1]

Despite recent U.S.-Yemeni security cooperation, many U.S. officials view Yemen’s counterterrorism policies as inadequate. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2007 Country Reports on Terrorism, “Despite Yemen’s history of terrorist activity and repeated offers of assistance from the U.S. government, Yemen lacked a comprehensive counterterrorism law. Current law as applied to counterterrorism was weak.”[1]

In the spring of 2008, FBI Director Robert Mueller traveled to Yemen to discuss counter-terrorism issues with President Saleh, including an update on the status of Jamal al Badawi and other known Al Qaeda operatives. According to a Newsweek report, “The meeting between Mueller and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh did not go well,” according to two sources who were briefed on the session but asked not to be identified discussing it. Saleh gave no clear answers about the suspect, Jamal al Badawi, leaving Mueller “angry and very frustrated,” said one source, who added that he’s “rarely seen the normally taciturn FBI director so upset.”[1]

Yemen continues to harbor a number of Al Qaeda operatives and has refused to extradite several known militants on the FBI’s list of most wanted terrorists. (Article 44 of the constitution states that a Yemeni national may not be extradited to a foreign authority.) Three known Al Qaeda operatives (Jamal al Badawi, Fahd al Quso, and Jaber A. Elbaneh), sought under the FBI’s Rewards for Justice program, are in Yemen. Before his incarceration, Elbaneh was free in Sana'a despite his conviction for his involvement in the 2002 attack French tanker Limburg and other attacks against Yemeni oil installations. In 2003, U.S. prosecutors charged Elbaneh in absentia with conspiring to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.[1]

Yemenis in Guantanamo Bay

Detainees upon arrival at Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay detention camp, 2002

As of November 2008, 101 Yemeni prisoners were still being held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Among this group, four men have been charged; two have been convicted in military commissions and two are charged with war crimes for participation in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. According to one report, "The remaining 97 are an eclectic group of intentional unrepentant combatants and accidental warriors.... Yet separating the detainees into two groups and determining where different individuals fall on a spectrum of past and potential violence is a nearly impossible task." In December, Salim Hamdan, who was convicted in August of aiding Al Qaeda and sentenced to five and one-half years in prison, was released and handed over to the Yemeni authorities. He was returned to Yemen and subsequently released after serving the remainder of his sentence. Among those held at Guantanamo who have not been charged are the brother of the deputy commander of Al Qaeda in Yemen. What to do with the remaining Yemeni prisoners is a subject of debate within the United States government. The Yemeni government has often not kept known terrorists incarcerated, as President Saleh has instead opted to negotiate with hardened militants in order to use them against more lethal Jihadists or to secure pacts of non-belligerence from Al Qaeda affiliates.[1]

On January 22, 2009, President Obama signed a series of executive orders to close the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. With Yemenis composing nearly 40% of the remaining prison population, U.S. policymakers will now be tasked with reviewing their individual cases. According to initial reports, “listed options include repatriation to their home nations or a willing third country, civil trials in this country, or a special civil or military system.”[1]

The Yemeni government is pressing U.S. officials to fund a rehabilitation program for prisoners, similar to a Saudi Arabian government program that uses clerics and social support networks to de-radicalize and monitor prisoners. Between 2002 and 2005, Yemeni Religious Affairs Minister and Supreme Court Justice Hamoud al-Hittar ran an unsuccessful “dialogue” program with Yemeni Islamists in which he attempted to convince prisoners that Jihad in Islam is for defense, not for offensive attacks. More than 360 militants were released after going through the program, but there was almost no post-release support, such as helping the detainees find jobs and wives, key elements of the Saudi initiative. Several graduates of the program returned to violence, including three of the seven men identified as participants in the September bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. Other observers have suggested funding a Supermax-type prison in Yemen, though costs are uncertain, and there is little U.S. faith in the Yemeni authorities’ ability to maintain security.[1]

Diplomatic missions and ambassadors

Stephen A. Seche, U.S. Ambassador to Yemen

There is a US embassy in Sanaa[2] and a Yemeni embassy in Washington, D.C.. The current US ambassador to Yemen is Stephen A. Seche.[2]

Attack on the American Embassy in Sana'a

On September 17, 2008, Yemeni rioters attacked and sieged the embassy in the country's capital, Sanaa, and diplomatic relations have since been cut off and are now extremely volatile.

Closure of American Embassy in 2010

In Late December 2009, the Embassy asked Americans in Yemen to keep watch of any suspicious terrorist activity following a terrorist incident on board a flight to the US that was linked to Yemen. [4] On 3 January 2010, following threats from al-Qaeda, the Embassy in Sana'a closed. [5] In a statement issued on the Embassy's website they said: "The US Embassy in Sana’a is closed today, in response to ongoing threats by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to attack American interests in Yemen". [6] Al Jazeera reported that the closure of the Embassy can mean only that "they believe al-Qaeda threat is very serious". There was no given date as when it would reopen.[7] The U.S. and the United Kingdom pledged increased economic aid to help Yemen combat al-Qaeda.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Sharp, Jeremy M. Yemen: Background and U.S. Relations (RL34170) (PDF). Congressional Research Service (January 22, 2009). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Background note: Yemen. US Department of State (December 2007). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain..
  3. ^ Blasts rock US embassy in Yemen BBC News
  4. ^ "U.S. Embassy in Yemen closes over terror threats". CNN International. 3 January 2010. http://edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/africa/01/03/yemen.us.embassy/. Retrieved 3 January 2010.  
  5. ^ Matthew Weaver (3 January 2010). "US shuts embassy in Yemen after al-Qaida threats". The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/jan/03/us-shuts-yemen-embassy. Retrieved 3 January 2010.  
  6. ^ "Embassy Closed in Response to Security Threat". Embassy of the United States: Sana'a, Yemen. 3 January 2010. http://yemen.usembassy.gov/embclosed.html. Retrieved 3 January 2010.  
  7. ^ "US shuts Yemen embassy over threats". Al Jazeera English. 3 January 2010. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/01/2010139175878540.html. Retrieved 3 January 2010.  

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