Yemeni-American Relations: Has US achieved its Goals? [Archives:2001/29/Law & Diplomacy]

July 16 2001

Saeed Thabet
Many Many people wonder about what may have caused the US temporarily close its consular services to public and created a crisis in the Yemeni-American relations recently.
In fact there are many cases and mutual interests that control the Yemeni-American relations. However, the US seems to be more determined to get strategic interests in Yemen that would serve strengthen its presence in the whole region. Such interests became more evident after the civil war in 1994.
The following are the mutual cases that seem to govern relations between the two countries:
* the geographical and strategic location of Yemen,
* economy,
* military cooperation,
* normalization with the Zionists, and
* controlling the Islamic movements.
Geographical and Strategic location of Yemen
The government of Yemen makes use of its important location and its population in the Arab Peninsula as a trump card to generate support to develop its economy. It has been using the same card to determine the volume of American interest in the location of Yemen.
Such a location bestows great importance on Aden seaport in the field of international trade attracting international interest that are ambitious about playing political, economic, military roles in the area. These roles have been played by the US which has been demonstrating more interests in Yemen since the early problems that led to Unity and its support of unity in return of military and economic interests in the area following the same steps of the British colonizers who controlled the southern part of the country for more than 128 years.
Following the civil war in 1994, the US tended to get back the price for supporting unity among which have been military facilities in the country that allow American aircraft to fly and get fueled freely.
Many newspapers published news about American negotiations to establish a military base in Socotra or Meyon of the strategic location on the Bab Al-Mandab Strait. But it was strongly denied by Yemeni officials.
The first experience to know Aden by the Americans was in 1991 as part of the Charity Operation used as a cover to intervene in the internal affairs of Somalia. However, the American presence in Yemen did not last for a long time owing to the explosion of the Aden Hotel where the American Marines were staying.
The American interests in Yemen increased after the establishment of the Free Zone in Aden which has been a suitable cover for a continued American interference in the area at low costs.
The economic file and the reform programs related to it is one of the most important files used by America to deal with Yemen. Implementing the related programs determines the volume of the American political and economic aid to Yemen.
Yemen began to implement the economic reform program, prepared mostly by the World Bank, following the civil war. The program which is being implemented in phases aims at pushing Yemen into a globalized scale in accordance with the American ambitions. Consequently, Yemen has signed a number of international economic agreements, showed interest to join the GATT, Paris Treaty, Burn for Individual property as a prelude to join the WTO. Implementing a set of economic reforms has been the condition for continued American aids.
Yemeni officials have expressed their disappointment with the American promises to increase aids from US$ 5-7 million to US$ 50 million. So far there has been an agreement on an American aid totaling US$ 31 million which was signed last month between the American ambassador to Sana’a and the Yemeni minister of planning last June.
Many officials believe that the American aid is weak and do not raise to the American promises. They add that a great part of this aid go to the American experts.
Freedoms and Democracy
The US deals with the issue of freedoms and democracy in the world as an unquestioned issue as far as it will serve its interests. It believes that democracy and human rights issues are good for Yemen as far as they help maintain stability in the country. Yemen has been working hard on freedoms and democracy in a way that suits its internal affairs, a matter which does not appeal to the US.
For its part the US has been always playing the role of the safeguard of democracy and advisor to all officials in this field.
Military Cooperation
Military cooperation between Yemen and America has been clearly seen during the last four years. This includes a number of training programs, joint maneuvers and the Demining Program, based in Aden, which was launched in 1998. Although many countries such as the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, etc. and organizations such as the UNDP are contributing to this program, it is mostly dominated by the US.
The same period is marked by an increase in the US officials’ visits to Yemen as well as the number of US ships arriving at Aden Seaport. US officials have on many occasions expressed ambition to have more facilities for their forces in the region. However, the Yemeni government has been denying any agreement on military facilities for America. “Yemen’s position has been very clear that we can not accept any American Military Base here,” a Yemeni military official told the 26 September Newspaper.
Presently, the US is holding talks with Yemeni officials to persuade the latter to implement a joint program to fight smuggling and protect water routes.
Sana’a has postponed a military maneuver that was scheduled for the end of this month for undeclared reasons.
Islamic Movements
The great American efforts have been successful to some extent in limiting the Islamic movement in Yemen. This in return, increased hatred for the Americans among members of these groups.
Yemen has succumbed to the American pressures and drove out more than 20,000 Arab Islamists. In return, it was granted more technical aids such as training special police to fight terrorism. So far there have been 5 training course in this regards. The American pressures on Yemen to fight the Islamic movements affected the exemplary relations that existed between the government and the Islamists.
Recently, according to some economic resources, the World Bank suggested cancellation of the Religious Institutes managed by Islah under the pretext that they do not have any economic and development returns.
The US seemed more determined to crack down the Islamic movement in Yemen after hitting the US Cole at Aden Seaport. US hostile position towards all Islamic movements were also clear when pressure was exercised on Dr. Iryani to remove the Islamic elements from the General People’s Congress (GPC) in the 5th and 6th GPC conferences in 1995 and 1998 and replacing a number of tribal elements by young people who were educated and trained in Washington, London and other western capitals.
The affected elements started to concentrate on the Iryani who had been claiming to be the pioneer of modernization in Yemen. He was trying to demonstrate that he holds the keys to please the White House, a matter that was rejected by President Saleh. Dr. Iryani invited a group of American Jews to Yemen to embrace President Saleh who had been known for his strong nationalist attitude specially in issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Visits were soon stopped after coming back of President Saleh from America. Now, it seems that America is resuming pressure on Saleh as to let a great margin for its supporters to have a room in the decision making.
Yemeni Jews & Normalization with Israel
Whenever US officials visit Yemen they bring up the issue of Yemeni Jews and Yemeni-Israeli relations. Some American resources revealed last month that the Congress had formed a committee to study the condition of the Yemeni Jews. The Yemeni government treated it as an illegal interference in the Yemeni internal affairs. Yemeni Jews are concentrated in an area in Sadah to the North of Sana’a.
This information came in the wake of the death of Azar Ibaraham, a Yemeni Jew. Before his death Azar was nominated by the GPC to run for the local elections. However, he was rejected because of his religion. Many questions were arisen about the people who persuaded him to run for the election despite the fact that his rejection was apparent since the Yemeni law stipulates commitment to Islamic teachings. Some interpretations indicated that it aimed at embarrassing the political system and its real commitment to democracy. Others believed that it was some elements in the GPC which was close to the US who made the plot.
The US depends on its supporters in Yemen to pave the way for better Yemeni-American relations. Some Israeli and American media sources talked about secret communications between Yemeni and Israeli officials since 1997. They referred to meetings between Dr. Al-Iryani, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs and Israeli officials during the former visits to Romania and his meeting with the Head of the Office of Israeli Prime Minister in Warsaw during which they discussed the possibility of opening an Israeli office in Sana’a. The second half of 1999 witnessed intensified Israeli visits to Yemen. Israeli visitors met high ranking officials in the al-Iryani government. These visits were directly supervised by the US.
Closures of Counselor Services
The aim of the temporary closure of the counselor services was in the view point of Yemeni analysts sending a message to the Yemeni government that it may be internationally isolated and imposed to economic sanctions. Such factors would lead Yemen to fall back on America and succumb to all its conditions. It also aimed at weakening the nationalist attitude of the Yemeni leadership, specially in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict as well as pushing Yemen into the peace camp and opposing the attitude of Saudi Crown Prince whose attitude is similar to that of Saleh.