I welcome today’s action by the Yemeni government and the opposition to sign a political agreement brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council to form a government of national unity within 14 days and hold early presidential elections within 90 days. In particular, the United States welcomes President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s decision to transfer executive powers immediately to the Vice President in accordance with the agreement. This represents an important step forward for the Yemeni people, who deserve the opportunity to determine their own future.
For ten months, the Yemeni people have courageously and steadfastly voiced their demands for change in cities across Yemen in the face of violence and extreme hardship. Today’s agreement brings them a significant step closer to realizing their aspirations for a new beginning in Yemen. The United States urges all parties to move immediately to implement the terms of the agreement, which will allow Yemen to begin addressing an array of formidable challenges and chart a more secure and prosperous path for the future. The United States will continue to stand by the Yemeni people as they embark on this historic transition. We also acknowledge the important work done by our GCC partners in supporting this step forward.
The United States has seen encouraging signs in recent days from the government and the opposition in Yemen suggesting a renewed willingness to implement a political transition, to include the Vice President signing the GCC-brokered agreement on behalf of President Saleh. The United States believes that three elements that have been agreed by the parties are critical to the successful implementation of the GCC Initiative: 1) Formation of a Government of National Unity; 2) Agreement to hold early Presidential elections by the end of calendar year 2011; and 3) Creation of a High Committee to oversee the country’s security and military affairs during the period leading to early elections. The United States believes that these remaining tasks can and should be accomplished quickly and it hopes that an agreement is reached and the signing of the GCC Initiative takes place within one week.
The United States continues to support a peaceful and orderly transition that is responsive to the Yemeni people’s aspirations for peace, prosperity, and security. We remain concerned about reports of continued violence. We call on the Yemeni government to protect peaceful protestors, refrain from violence, and bring those responsible for violence to justice.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman:
Chairman Casey, Ranking Member Risch, distinguished members of the committee, let me first join with my colleagues to thank you for inviting us to appear before you today. We appreciate the committee’s abiding interest in and attention to our nation’s priorities and goals in the region.
We are pleased to present the committee with an overview of the administration’s policy and our relationship with Yemen.
As you rightly know, Mr. Chairman, civil unrest in the Middle East and North Africa in the past six months has focused attention on governance across the region.
Yemen is, indeed, confronting a myriad of political, economic, social, security and governance challenges, and the current political crisis has exacerbated systemic issues such as unemployment, a rapidly growing population, weak state institutions, declining government revenues, growing natural resource scarcity, and of course, violent extremism.
Consistent with U.S. national interests, we have adopted a two-pronged strategy for Yemen: helping the government confront the immediate security threat represented by Al Qaida, and mitigating serious political, economic and governance issues that the country faces over the long terms, the drivers of instability.
The United States continues its regular engagement with the government, including with President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who’s currently, as you know, recovering in Saudi Arabia from his injuries following a June 3rd attack on his compound; the acting president, Vice President Abd-Rabbu Mansur al-Hadi; the opposition; civil society activists and others interested in Yemen’s future.
We strongly support the Gulf Cooperation Council’s initiative which we believe would lead to a peaceful and orderly political transition. The GCC initiative signed by both the ruling General People’s Congress Party and the opposition coalition Joint Meeting Parties. Only President Saleh is blocking the agreement moving forward and we continue to call on him to sign the initiative.
The situation on the ground remains extremely fluid, but the solution will come and must come from the Yemeni people, with the assistance and support of their international partners, namely the GCC and Saudi Arabia. Conditions in Yemen continue to deteriorate under the pressure of growing protests and increasing divisions throughout the country. Widespread inflation, including rising commodity prices, decreasing liquidity in the threat of a food shortage this summer foreshadow an economic crisis in the coming months.
While most protests in Yemen have been peaceful over the last couple of months, there have been violent clashes between pro- and anti-government demonstrators and between protesters and government security forces and irregular elements using force to break up demonstrations. The United States has strongly urged the Yemeni government to investigate and prosecute all acts of violence against protesters.
Ultimately, Mr. Chairman, the goal of the U.S. and international efforts is a stable, secure, prosperous and effectively governed Yemen. This is an ambitious, long-term goal that demands the deep and ongoing coordination with the Yemeni government and the international partners. We will be able to more effectively engage in Yemen once the Yemeni government initiates the political transition and identifies its way forward.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for inviting us to testify before your committee today, and thank you so much on behalf of Ambassador Feierstein and his colleagues at … Sana’a for your very kind words. They certainly deserve it. My colleagues and I are very happy now to take your questions. Thank you.
The United States is deeply disappointed by President Saleh’s continued refusal to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) initiative. He is turning his back on his commitments and disregarding the legitimate aspirations of the Yemeni people.
The concerted efforts of the international community, led by the GCC, have been tireless and all sides have agreed — on multiple occasions — to sign the GCC initiative. President Saleh is now the only party that refuses to match actions to words. We urge him to immediately follow through on his repeated commitments to peacefully and orderly transfer power and ensure the legitimate will of the Yemeni people is addressed. The time for action is now.
We are also outraged to learn that earlier today factions loyal to President Saleh encircled the UAE embassy in Sana’a. They refused to allow U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, ambassadors from the United Kingdom the European Union and GCC states, the GCC Secretary General and other foreign diplomats to leave the embassy. We condemn this action and call on President Saleh to meet his international obligations to ensure the safety and security of all foreign diplomats and their staffs working in Yemen.
The United States welcomes the initiative of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to address the challenging political situation in Yemen. We strongly encourage all sides to engage in this urgently needed dialogue to reach a solution supported by the Yemeni people. President Saleh has publicly expressed his willingness to engage in a peaceful transition of power; the timing and form of this transition should be identified through negotiation and begin soon. To succeed, all parties must participate in a process that addresses the legitimate concerns of the Yemeni people, including their political and economic aspirations.