By MARK LANDLER
December 26, 2011
HONOLULU — The Obama administration is considering a request by the embattled president of Yemen, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to come to the United States for medical treatment after he relinquishes power, a senior administration official said here on Sunday evening.
The White House has not decided whether to grant the request, the official said. But he added that if Mr. Saleh were allowed to come, it would only be for “legitimate medical treatment.”
Mr. Saleh was seriously wounded last June in a bomb attack on his palace in the Yemeni capital, Sana. He agreed to give up power a month ago and an election to replace him has been set for February, but until then, he maintains his title and much of his authority. Fears that Mr. Saleh will not let go have hampered Yemen’s transition and played an underlying role in the chronic political violence gripping the country, one of the poorest in the Middle East.
On Saturday, government security forces opened fire on protestors in Sana, killing at least nine people. They were protesting a deal under which Mr. Saleh would get immunity for his role in previous clashes with demonstrators, in return for giving up his post.
The United States will not offer Mr. Saleh asylum or safe harbor if it allows him to seek treatment here, the administration official said. Anti-government activists in Yemen said they would oppose that, and demand that the United States hand him over for legal prosecution at home.
Doubts remain strong in Yemen about the real intentions of Mr. Saleh, who has clung to power for three decades.
President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, John O. Brennan, called Yemen’s vice president, Abdo Rabbo Mansour al-Hadi, on Sunday to urge the government to show restraint against protesters, said Joshua R. Earnest, the deputy press secretary.
“Mr. Brennan emphasized strongly the need for Yemeni security forces to show maximum restraint when dealing with demonstrations, and called upon all sides to refrain from provocative acts that could spur further violence,” Mr. Earnest said in a statement issued in Hawaii, where Mr. Obama is spending the Christmas holiday with his family.
Vice President Hadi, who is to assume Mr. Saleh’s powers during the transition period, told Mr. Brennan that the government would investigate the deaths and injuries, Mr. Earnest said.
The United States has found itself in a sometimes awkward position as the unrest in the Arab world has swept through Yemen. The administration conducts extensive counterterrorism operations with the Saleh government on suspected Al Qaeda cells in Yemen.
Still, the administration has supported efforts by Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf neighbors to broker a peaceful transition. Mr. Brennan, who knows the Mr. Saleh well, has served as the administration’s main interlocutor with the government.
Ever since Mr. Saleh was hurt in the June bombing — suffering shrapnel wounds and extensive burns — there have been reports that he would leave Yemen for medical treatment. He was flown to a hospital in Saudi Arabia after the attack, but returned three months later.
On Saturday, Mr. Saleh told reporters at his palace that he was leaving to “get out of sight and the media, to calm the atmosphere for the unity government to hold the presidential election,” according to The Associated Press. But he did not say when he was leaving, and noted that he would eventually return, to work as an “opposition figure.”