By the hair of his chinny chin chin, Yemen’s Abdullah Saleh hangs on to power

Ali Abdullah SalehImage via WikipediaAl Jazeera reports that Yemen’s president has laid down new conditions for signing a power transition deal, thwarting Gulf efforts to bring an end to a months-old political crisis in the country.

A Gulf mediator left Sanaa, the Yemeni capital, on Sunday, having failed to secure Ali Abdullah Saleh‘s signature on the deal, according to a report on the AFP news agency.

Abdullatif al-Zayani, the secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), “left without getting the signature of the president,” Tareq al-Shami, the spokesman of Yemen’s ruling General People’s Congress, was quoted as saying.

Saleh said he would not sign the deal, which would see him step down in 30 days, unless opposition leaders were present at the signing.

In a provocative statement on state television, he warned of civil war if the opposition defied his call for them to be present at his palace to sign the deal.

“If they remain stubborn, we will confront them everywhere with all possible means,” he said.

“If they don’t bow, and want to take the country into a civil war, let them be responsible for it and for the blood that was shed and that will be shed if they insist on their stupidity.”

VOA News over the weekend also reported that witnesses say helicopters in Yemen have airlifted the ambassadors of the U.S., Britain and Gulf Arab nations who were trapped inside a diplomatic mission surrounded by armed loyalists to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh:

The loyalists surrounded the United Arab Emirates Embassy in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, on Sunday. They blocked roads and roamed the streets near the mission, where the ambassadors were discussing a Gulf region-brokered deal that would have Saleh transfer power within a month.

Yemen’s president appears to be backing out again from signing the deal.

Hours before he was scheduled to sign the agreement Sunday, Saleh said he is not interested in signing a deal inked “behind closed doors.”

On May 22, the State Department released a statement with the following excerpt:

“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.”

We are outraged and ….?

The CSMonitor posted a question that begs an answer:

“At what point does the US consider cutting off Saleh’s financial spigot? […] The Washington counterterrorism establishment sees the Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as the next big thing, and would probably argue that maintaining decent relations with the guy in power is crucial. But what happened yesterday came pretty close to a hostage-taking of a US ambassador by a guy on the US payroll.”
Is it just me or is it becoming more apparent what kind of friends we have in these shaky, shaky places?  The guy on the US payroll pretty close to taking our ambassador hostage–you betcha Mr. Saleh is watching if the US is going to blink, and when? Over in another hotspot, our other great ally of Pakistan had elected reps inquiring if the  F-16s we gave them can shoot down our drones in the wild, wild west of their untamed border. 

My god! Frenemies are sometimes sweet but when they give you a headache, it’s worse than a 24/7 root canal!

Yesterday, May 23rd, the US Embassy in Sana’a issued a warden message informing American citizens in Yemen that U.S. Embassy employees are currently restricted from an area of the city, beginning near Hadda Water Factory.  The boundaries of the area, roughly a rectangle, are defined as: 24th Street east to 14th of October Street, 14th of October Street south to 50 Meter Road, 50 Meter Road west to Zero Street, Zero Street north back to 24th Street. The embassy says that the restriction is due to the presence of armed militia in the area and urged U.S. citizens to take the same security precaution. The embassy will also close its Consular Section to the public today and tomorrow, May 24 and May 25, 2011, and will be providing emergency American citizen services only.

Updated @10:28 PST:
By the way, about that reported helicopter ride, I just learned that Ambassador Gerald Feierstein actually left the Emirates’ embassy via motorcade, not helicopter as widely reported in the press.  The joke out there is that he’d rather test his luck with an angry mob than a Yemeni aircraft! 

I don’t know what those Yemeni helos are like but most of the country’s aircraft are Soviet Union era flying birds; they’re oldies, not sure they’re goldies, okay?  As to the angry mob, not to underestimate the danger there — but just so you know, Ambassador Feierstein had three tours in Pakistan, including a three year tour in Peshawar