Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh has admitted that he’s unlikely to bring widespread reform to the tumultuous country, and both U.S. and Yemeni officials agree that he needs to go. Despite several missteps by Saleh and his officials (like his supporters firing on unarmed protesters), the U.S. has remained a staunch supporter of Saleh because of Yemen’s critical role in fighting the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda.
Saleh is now negotiating handing over power to a provisional government, say officials working on the transfer. And it’s not an “if,” but a “when.” “The Americans have been pushing for transfer of power since the beginning,” said one unnamed Yemeni official, but have not said so publicly because they were working out the terms of Saleh’s departure. It’s unclear whether the U.S. will provide safe passage for the outgoing leader, but the transition will need to happen smoothly. “Groups of various stripes — Al Qaeda, Houthis, tribal elements, and secessionists — are exploiting the current political turbulence and emerging fissures within the military and security services for their own gain,” said one American official. “Until President Saleh is able to resolve the current political impasse by announcing how and when he will follow through on his earlier commitment to take tangible steps to meet opposition demands, the security situation in Yemen is at risk of further deterioration.”