By ROBERT F. WORTH and MICHAEL SLACKMAN
April 23, 2011
CAIRO — Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, agreed on Saturday to leave power after 32 years of autocratic rule, according to a top Yemeni official, but only if the opposition agrees to a list of conditions, including that he and his family be granted immunity.
Opposition leaders said they were prepared to accept most of the terms of the deal, which both they and a Yemeni official said would establish a coalition government with members of the opposition and ruling party. The president would turn over authority to the current vice president.
But the opposition said it could not guarantee at least one of Mr. Saleh’s demands — that demonstrations be halted — and opposition members said they would present a counteroffer to the president later Saturday. The opposition said it had little influence with the mainly young protesters who have been demanding Mr. Saleh’s departure.
Even if the opposition and the government agree to a deal, it is unclear whether the demonstrators will go along, especially after pro-government snipers brutally crushed a demonstration on March 18, killing 52.
Mr. Saleh is a wily political survivor, and it was unclear if his offer was a real attempt to calm the political turmoil and growing demonstrations that have rocked his country for weeks or a way to shift blame for a stalemate to the opposition. His offer follows days of unrelenting pressure, from Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states fearful of more instability in the region, for him to step aside.
A Yemeni official portrayed the deal as one devised by the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional group dominated by Saudi Arabia. But a member of the Gulf council said it had presented only a framework for a political solution, not a plan with such specifics.
“The most important thing in the initiative to all parties, including Saleh himself, is for a smooth and peaceful transition of authority,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the negotiations. “Now the devil is in the details. This is up to them to decide, not up to us.”
Mr. Saleh has been an important ally of the United States in its efforts to stamp out Al Qaeda, which has an active branch in the country. The relationship became especially crucial to the United States after attempted terrorist attempts were linked to the Qaeda branch there. That included an attempt to bring down an airliner bound for the United States at the end of 2009.
But in recent weeks, American officials began joining calls for Mr. Saleh to step down; they said the White House had determined that he would not make the changes necessary to bring stability to the country. American officials were also increasingly worried that the stalemate and continued violence there were allowing Qaeda members to become even more entrenched.
The State Department reacted somewhat cautiously Saturday. Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner said officials had seen news reports about President Saleh’s apparent acceptance of an agreement with the opposition, which he said would be welcome. But he added that “The participation of all sides in this dialogue is urgently needed to reach a solution supported by the Yemeni people.” He also specified that the nation’s youth should be brought into the process.
“We will not speculate about the choices the Yemeni people will make or the results of their political dialogue,” Mr. Toner said. “It is ultimately for the people of Yemen to decide how their country is governed.”
Source: The New York Times