President Saleh to Al-Jazeera: “Americans are Denied Interrogating any Yemeni and Cole File is Referred to Prosecution” [Archives:2001/37/Reportage]
Mohammed Hatem Al-Qadhi
President Ali Abdullah Saleh denied information that American investigators of USS Cole incident requested from Yemen to interrogate high-ranked Islamic personalities and military officials as well. Last Wednesday, he gave Al-Jazeera Satellite TV Channels an extensive interview and said, “such allegations are repeatedly made by the Yemeni opposition. Americans did not request this and they are denied the right to interrogate any Yemeni national whatever his position or rank is. Americans can submit their inquiries to the Yemeni security services and they will get their answers.” He fully denied the involvement of any Yemeni Islamic or non-Islamic leaders in the Cole suicide bombing incident which killed 17 American sailors and injured 39 other last October. He also confirmed that the case investigation is has been completed and can be submitted to prosecution. However, he did not set a date for these proceedings. With regard to his visit to Washington, President Saleh confirmed that this visit was not postponed because of the bombing attack on the USS Cole but because of other arrangements on the part of both Yemen and United States. He added that, in principle, the visit has been scheduled to take place by the end of the October or the beginning of November.
The President described the bombing attack on the American destroyer as a terrorist act aimed to tarnish and cripple the Yemeni-US relations and to show the country to be a safe haven for terrorist acts. However, he said the incident made Yemen able to have a better grasp on the US administration and to learn on how to deal with it.
He stated, “Our position on the attack was strong and responsible. The US administration respected it. In respect the Americans as they respect people who respect themselves.” said Saleh. He confirmed that there were pressures on Yemen but he said if Yemen had surrendered to this pressure, the Americans would here asked more and more facilities. “We denied them access to Yemen with forces, planes, and ships. We put them under direct monitor by our security forces. They respected our position and surrendered to what we did ” He claimed the investigation into the incident has been completed but he said that Americans requested the postponement of the tribunal of the six suspects so that they can prop into the missing link in the case. Asked whether a republican amnesty can unique on secessionists will be issued with the 39th anniversary of 26th September Revolution, the President, denied such information. He said the 26 persons who were involved in the secessionist act during the civil war of 1994 including his former president Ali Salem Al-Baidh have been tried the justice and that if an amnesty on them is released, that would justify their criminal acts against the country and wash their hands of the responsibility of the 11.000 killed and injured in the war. He said the defendants can come to the country or appoint advocates to appeal the verdict against them, denying any sort of contacts with them.
However, he said the Yemeni political leadership was very liberal and lenient with people involved in the separation act as it restricted the responsibility of this crime to 16 people, four of them have been sentenced to death while the 12 other have been sentenced to different terms of imprisonment but with suspension. He also underscored that both the Central Committee for Yemen Socialist Party and the representatives of the south in the parliament were found guilty of triggering the separatist movement.
With respect to the kidnapping incident of the German diplomat Rainer Berns, the President said that this case is considered to be the longest kidnapping in Yemen history and would be settled in the coming days with all possible means to ensure his peaceful release. He said kidnappers were now alone and they did not receive any support from tribes or clans. Ironically, he added, “This is not the first case of kidnapping and it seems to have become fashionable to perpetrate them.”
With regard to the current controversy between the government and the opposition over draft amendments of Election Law, President Saleh said he was optimistic that both sides would reach an mutual satisfactory agreement. He added the PGC has been very open-minded as it invited all political parties to discuss the proposed amendments on Elections Law. He stated that he was ready to endorse any suggestion from the opposition on ways to run elections in the country, but insisted that this was not possible everywhere as candidates always choose their own members to monitor the voting process while vote screening is conducted by Ministry of Interior. He mentioned that a committee was set up to handle the electoral process. Asked about preparation of Saleh’s son Ahmad to become the next president of Yemen, the President did not give a clear answer and told the interviewer, “You are always asking about the sons of Saleh, Quadafi, Mubarak, Saddam Hussein. You want to say republics are now becoming monarchies. That is not a problem if there is democracy.”Concerning the on-going conflict in the Palestinian territories, President Saleh called upon all Arab countries to support the Palestinian Intifadah as the only way out to settle the war with Israel. He underlined that peace was not possible as long as Israeli Prime Minister, Aril Sharon, was challenging all international agreements on the
Arab-Israeli conflict. He stressed out that talking about peace is without any sense as peace can only be achieved through the use of force. “Peace can not be given on a golden plate”, he observed. President Saleh added Israeli arrogance should be attacked by force so that Sharon would have no other choice but to ask for peace. He even called for a mobilization of Arab forces to face the enemy because Sharon is a very unpredictable character and could act stupidly against the Arabs as he did in the 1980s. He also praised Saudi Arabia for its significant financial support to Intifadah, adding that Saudi leadership are very enthusiastic about its new idea to bring Palestinian and American leaderships together at the table. He said that last Wednesday Prince Bander bin Sultan delivered him a personal message from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abduhalaziz exposing this new idea.
However, Saleh insisted on the significance of setting up the Arab Defense Treaty as well as organizing a meeting with the Arab Foreign and Defense Ministers before holding the next Arab Summit. He said that all kinds of relationship with Israel should be stopped and that goods of companies dealing with Israel should be boycotted. The President stated, “Once our position and decisions are strong and well defined, we will press on the United States and the European Union to be adopt a more fair attitude towards the Palestinian issue. When we have a powerful and a unified stance among Arabs, our voice can be heard more clearly by others.” In his point of view, the Arabs have not so far used their relationship and common interests with the United States in favor of the Palestinian issue which is the cause shared by all Arab and Muslim countries. However, he expressed surprise at the US decision to withdraw from Durban International Racism Conference as it decided to side with Israel. He said, “We have not expected such bias from the sponsor of New World Order.”
Concerning the Iraqi-Kuwaiti dispute on the Kuwaiti still held captive in Iraq, Saleh said that Kuwaiti leadership asked him to intercede in its favor in order to have the prisoners released. Yet, the Vice President of Iraq, Taha Yaseen Ramadhan, confirmed to President Saleh that there were no Kuwaiti prisoners remaining in Iraq and that Iraq had transmitted a letter to the Arab League concerning this issue. Ramadhan also mentioned to Saleh that Iraq was ready to accept an investigation of this matter on Iraqi soil by the committee of the Arab Red Crescent.
The Yemeni president said that economic sanctions on Iraq should be lifted and that differences should be smoothed out as Iraq is member of the Arab Nation.
Regarding Yemen’s position during the second Gulf War, Saleh insisted that the country stance was misunderstood as did not side with any of the belligerants. He stressed out that Yemen condemned the invasion of Kuwait but refused in the same time any foreign interference in the problem. He said that Arab leaders could have been able to convince Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait but those leaders were forced to take other decisions at the fateful summit in Cairo.
Concerning the Yemeni-Kuwaiti relations, the president described them as normal and improving.
The president denied any silent conflict with Eritrea as the dispute over Hunaish Island has been settled. He added that the disagreements on the areas of traditional fishing will be solved by law experts from both countries, indicating that the Eritrean Foreign Minister will visit Yemen soon in this objective.
Saleh depicted the relations with Saudi Arabia as at their best, especially after the signature of the Jeddah Border Treaty. He also mentioned that the German company, Hans Luft Bild, chosen to conduct demarcation, is now carrying out field surveys in cooperation with Yemen and Saudi technical teams. On the issue of Yemeni expatriates in Saudi Arabia, President Saleh stressed that the situation was now different as Saudi Arabia has to give priority to its own people in getting jobs to meet the demand of a growing population. However, he ended saying that “We should give priorities to other people not because the treaties say so but because we are neighbors.”