In 2010, the Defense Department spent USD 150 million to train and arm Yemen’s security forces and has requested from Congress more than USD 100 million for the current fiscal year and USD 115.6 million for military and economic aid in 2012.
In an interview with Press TV, former US diplomat Eugene Bird speaks about why Washington does not suspend military assistance to Yemen despite violence by President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime against peaceful demonstrators.
Press TV: What is your reaction to the news (of US continuing military aid to Yemen)?
Eugene Bird: I can understand why they do this: because they thought that al-Qaeda was a real threat. Al-Qaeda is largely headquartered in the Arabian Peninsula and of course it is a threat to Saudi Arabia as well as to the US and other parts including Somalia. I think it was one of the typical decisions made in Washington at this point that is contradictory to the basic principles as stated by the US president.
With regard to Libya and various other countries, not much has been said about Syria and Bahrain but the Yemen military aid decision is obviously with one eye on the Republican Congress and with one eye on the 2012 elections here in the US. We support our friends, we oppose their enemies. There are distinct parts in Yemen: south Yemen which has always tried to break away and north Yemen which has recently been trying to break away.
So it is a very complex political negotiation that we needed and we don’t know how many of the people in the Square in Taiz or at the university in Sana’a are really part of central Yemen. All of the demonstrations so far have been what I would call central Yemen. So we do the best we can but are contradictory sometimes.
Press TV: Some say the best tool against al-Qaeda threat is to support this revolution, what is your opinion on that?
Eugene Bird: Essentially I agree that we shouldn’t support a president that has been in power as long as President Ali Abdullah Saleh without a democratic alternative. I wonder if we shouldn’t have a look at a kind of negotiations that have taken place. We had the Dayton Negotiations that sort of did settle things between Serbs and Croatians and the Muslims in Bosnia. You do the best you can but it is the use of US military and bombing in Serbia and Bosnia that made the difference.
We don’t have any alternative like that in Yemen; I mean who do we bomb? I’d rather think that the best solution is to find a Richard Holbrooke or someone form one of the other countries, perhaps Italy, who has the stature and toughness to negotiate between the sections of Yemen, with President Saleh and his supporters in the being one section. I don’t like the US to supply arms at this point. Negotiation should be our emphasis and particularly tough negotiations by someone beside an American.
Press TV: Where is this Yemen situation going especially with the US and Saudi Arabia both being involved in the situation in Yemen?
Eugene Bird: I have been to Yemen a few times, maybe three or four times, in the past 25 years but I was in Saudi Arabia and I think I know the Saudi attitude during that great Yemeni rebellion against the former regime in Yemen in which about a million Yemenis who had been working in Saudi Arabia were sent home to Yemen. This has been a very difficult relationship between Riyadh and Sana’a previous to [President] Saleh and this is a factor.
I don’t think that you can deal Saudi Arabia out of the game, given the wealth and size and the fact in Yemen today there are some American Muslim clerics form Virginia who have been instrumental in the killing of the US military in Texas and involved in other attempts so al-Qaeda is a very real threat connected to Yemen.
However, I think it would be better if there was a departure of Saleh and a government that would come in and would be able to rule Yemen. I don’t see at this point that without a lot of negotiations and a lot of stepping back by other, I might say, tribal leaders and by other parts of Yemen from trying to always topple the government in Sana’a.
Press TV: Thank you Eugene Bird for joining us here on Press TV.
(www.presstv.ir / 06.04.2011)