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Cablegate: Saleh's Charm Offensive: Yemeni President Attempts to Woo

R 061307Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 0738

UNCLAS SANAA 001949


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PTER KPAO YM
SUBJECT: SALEH'S CHARM OFFENSIVE: YEMENI PRESIDENT ATTEMPTS TO WOO
INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCES THROUGH RECENT INTERVIEWS

1. (Summary) During the week of November 24, 2008, President Ali
Abdullah Saleh conducted two high-profile, on-the-record interviews
with international media outlets in France and Russia. In the
context of these interviews, Saleh outlined his government's views
on counter-terrorism strategy in Yemen, American foreign policy, the
issue of Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo, the upcoming parliamentary
elections and the issue of piracy in the Gulf of Aden. In what some
observers have called a "charm offensive," Saleh took the
opportunity to take his message directly to two important European
audiences for Yemen. While most of Saleh's remarks were
predictable, his comments on Israel - whereby he admits to "believe
in its existence" - would seem to be a break with previous public
statements by the ROYG. (End Summary).

COUNTER-TERRORISM EFFORTS IN YEMEN
----------------------------------
2. As expected, the bulk of Saleh's recent interviews were
dedicated to the issue of counter-terrorism. On "Russia Today", a
daily Russian news program, Saleh outlined what he sees as Yemen's
role in combating terrorism, claiming the ROYG to be in the "first
tier" of governments in addressing this issue. Saleh described CT
cooperation with external powers like the US and the EU as an
"exchange of information" as part of an international CT strategy.
Saleh described Yemeni terrorists as "ignorant and think that they
will settle their accounts with the outside world through these
[terrorist] acts. This is a misapprehension. The only thing that
suffers is the country itself....In reality, they are committing
destructive terrorist actions which harm their own country."

3. On French TV, Saleh focused on recent successes by ROYG security
in rolling up suspected terrorists. In the period after the
September 17 attack on the US Embassy in Sana'a, Saleh makes the
claim that, "the government has strengthened its arrangements to
deal with terrorist operations and increased its efforts to pursue
and to catch terrorist elements. Those who have been arrested are
now in prison to allow for the investigation of them to be
completed. The security forces are pursuing the rest of the
Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist cells in preparation to arrest them
and bring them to justice."

SALEH 'BELIEVES IN' ISRAEL
--------------------------
4. Saleh predicted that US foreign policy in the Middle East would
not change much under the Obama administration, opining to French
television that, "American foreign policy is agreed upon between the
Republicans and Democrats and does not change when the president
changes." However, with the Russians, Saleh offered his analysis of
the American historical role in the Middle East peace process.
Going back to President Reagan and continuing on to the election of
President-elect Obama, Saleh went on to recount the seemingly
unchanging nature of US foreign policy towards Israel. From Saleh's
perspective, "there has been no substantial change, especially in
its prevailing bias towards Israel....Obama comes and someone else
goes and we do not expect anything new from the American position
towards Israel unless there is a unified, public position on the
establishment of the Palestinian State amongst the Democrats or
Republicans, and the removal of Israel from occupied Arab lands -
first and foremost Palestinian lands."

5. Saleh goes on to explain his view of the Arab position on the
Israel-Palestine conflict. Saleh, appearing to ad lib, said, "We
are not saying to them to throw Israel into the sea. We believe in
the existence of Israel. It exists in the region and we live with
it....If a Palestinian state is founded, security will come to the
Israelis....Even in the shadow of American support for them, they
will not be able to establish the stability of Israel without the
establishment of the Palestinian state and the withdrawal from
occupied lands."

YEMENIS IN GUANTANAMO
---------------------
6. President Saleh predicted that there would soon be a resolution
to the issue of the remaining Yemeni detainees in Guantanamo. Saleh
reiterated his government's position that the USG provide evidence
of their crimes if the ROYG was to be asked to incarcerate them
after their return to Yemen. Saleh said that the ROYG "will receive
[the GTMO detainees] and rehabilitate them so that they are
positive, productive members of society, they distance themselves
from extremism, radicalism and terrorism....We expect the new
American administration to release our prisoners and send them to
Yemen to serve out the rest of their sentences....It is incumbent
upon the Americans to present their files to the Yemen judiciary.
They will be tried in a Yemeni court based on the information that
the Americans present."

YEMENI ELECTIONS
----------------
7. On the topic of Yemen's upcoming parliamentary elections,
scheduled for April 2009, Saleh was quick to deny any potential
delays in the voting time-table. Saleh expressed to French TV that
the opposition Joint Meeting Parties (JMP) would fully participate
in the election, promising that the ROYG, "would not take any unfair
action in fulfilling its responsibility to protect the peace and
tranquility in a general sense and to apply the Constitution and the
Law." On Russian TV, Saleh offered a warning to the JMP, saying
that, "We are not against one party standing alone in power." Saleh
went on to criticize elements of the JMP who he characterized as
seeking to "rule and oppose at the same time."

"I WARNED THE WORLD 18 YEARS AGO ABOUT PIRATES"
--------------------------------------------- --
8. Saleh criticized the international community for ignoring what
he sees as the underlying issue of the piracy crisis, the lack of a
central government in Somalia. Speaking to Russian TV, Saleh
criticized the US and the EU for ignoring the issue of Somalia. "We
have discussed this issue with the United States and the European
Union over the past eighteen years....It was necessary for us to
work to re-build the Somali state and its institutions because the
collapse of this country will cause damage to international safety
and security. Unfortunately these countries did not respond
positively to this request." Saleh posited that a coordinated
international effort, centered in Yemen, would be the only way to
effectively combat piracy. On French TV, Saleh called for the
establishment of an anti-piracy center in Yemen, saying that, "We
are ready to set up this center in Yemen in order to gather together
the international efforts to combat sea piracy be they from the
Somalis or others."

COMMENT
-------
9. Saleh's on-the-record press availabilities with Russia Today and
TV France are extremely rare examples of Saleh's direct foreign
media engagement, preferring to deliver most of his messages through
his own government-controlled media mouthpieces. Several Yemeni
journalists have opined to Emboff that Saleh's decision to appear on
French and Russian television can be seen as a calculated effort by
the ROYG to wage a "charm offensive" on two key trade partners for
Yemen. The Russian interview also can be viewed in the context of
his long-anticipated official visit to Moscow, now expected to take
place this month. End Comment.

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