Cablegate: Brennan-Saleh Meeting Sep 6, 2009


DE RUEHYN #1669/01 2580612
R 150612Z SEP 09

S E C R E T SANAA 001669



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/08/2019

REF: SANAA 01549

Classified By: Ambassador Stephen Seche for reasons 1.4(b),
(c), and (d).

1. (S/NF) SUMMARY. In a September 6 meeting with Deputy
National Security Advisor John Brennan, President Saleh
pledged unfettered access to Yemen's national territory for
U.S. counterterrorism operations, suggesting that in the
process, the USG assumed responsibility for the success - or
failure - of efforts to neutralize AQAP in Yemen. Saleh
expressed dissatisfaction with the USG's current level of aid
for CT and security operations and insisted the ROYG began
its war against the al-Houthi rebellion in northern Yemen on
behalf of the U.S. Saleh stated his preference for Saudi
Arabia over Jordan as a potential rehabilitation site for
Guantanamo detainees of Yemeni origin, but claimed the ROYG
was willing and able to accept them in Yemeni prisons. In a
one-on-one that followed, Brennan extended an invitation to
Saleh to visit President Obama at the White House on October

--------------------------------------------- ----------

2. (S/NF) In a September 6 meeting with Deputy National
Security Advisor John Brennan, President Saleh insisted that
Yemen's national territory is available for unilateral CT
operations by the U.S. Dissatisfied with current levels of
USG funding and military training provided to the ROYG's CT
forces, Saleh asserted that the USG has produced "only words,
but no solutions" to the terrorism issue in Yemen. Saleh
repeatedly requested more funds and equipment to fight
al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), while at the same
time placing responsibility for any future AQAP attacks on
the shoulders of the USG now that it enjoys unfettered access
to Yemeni airspace, coastal waters and land. (NOTE. The USG
has been actively engaged since 2001 in training elements of
Yemen's CT forces, including the Counter-Terrorism Unit
(CTU), the Yemen Special Operations Force (YSOF), the
Presidential Guard, the Yemeni Border Troops, Yemen Air Force
(YAF), and the Yemen Coast Guard (YCG). The USG has expended
over $115 million equipping CT forces since FY02. In 2009
alone, U.S. teams have instructed Yemeni CT forces in
training valued at $5 million. END NOTE.)

3. (S/NF) While Saleh offered assurances that the ROYG is
"determined to continue the war against al-Qaeda because
they're targeting U.S. and Yemeni interests," he continued to
link increased U.S. access to AQAP targets with full
responsibility for achieving CT goals. Highlighting the
potential for a future AQAP attack on the U.S. Embassy or
other Western targets, Saleh said, "I have given you an open
door on terrorism, so I am not responsible."

--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (S/NF) President Saleh expressed his frustration with the
USG refusal to view the Sa'ada war against the al-Houthis in
the north in the same light as the fight against AQAP.
Claiming a need for increased aid and support, Saleh asserted
that "this war we're launching is a war on behalf of the
U.S....the Houthis are your enemies too," citing videos of
al-Houthi followers chanting, "Death to Israel, death to
America." (NOTE: The Houthis have not attacked U.S.
interests or personnel in the six rounds of fighting between
the ROYG and the Houthis that began in 2004. END NOTE.) The
USG's failure to view the Houthis as terrorists and equip
ROYG forces to fight them in Sa'ada undermines the USG's
claims of friendship and cooperation, according to Saleh.
Commenting on the status of ROYG forces in Sa'ada, Saleh
said, "we are suffering a lot of casualties and loss of
material." Renewing his requests for armored personnel
vehicles, aircraft, and medical evacuation vehicles, Saleh
echoed his criticism of U.S. efforts. "We need deeds, not
only words," he said. Brennan responded that the USG is
prohibited by law from providing military support to the ROYG
to be used against the Houthis since the USG considers the
group a domestic insurgency.

5. (S/NF) Restating claims of Iranian support to the Houthi
movement, ROYG officials present said they had provided
files supporting an Iranian-Houthi connection to USG
officials and would provide more if necessary. (NOTE. The
Ambassador acknowledged receiving a file that was reviewed
here and in Washington; however, no conclusive evidence of an
Iranian-Houthi link has been made from these or other
records. Brennan said that he would request a fresh scrub of
all available intelligence to see if it turned up any
evidence of Iranian involvement. END NOTE.) Saleh said,
"Iran is trying to settle old scores against the U.S. by
ruining relations between Yemen and GCC countries and the
U.S." He also made a tangential reference to Hezbollah,
claiming the organization's influence in the region also
rendered the ROYG-Houthi war a fight on behalf of the U.S.
Referencing the high poverty rate and illicit arms flows into
both Yemen and Somalia, Saleh concluded by saying, "If you
don't help, this country will become worse than Somalia."


6. (S/NF) Saleh expressed his preference for the existing
Saudi Arabia option as a potential site for rehabilitating
Guantanamo detainees of Yemeni origin over a proposed
Jordanian option, citing closer familial ties and cultural
bonds in Saudi Arabia as mechanisms for more effective
treatment. Saleh commented that he thought the Jordanians
were &too poor8 to support a rehabilitation program, but
did not dismiss Jordan as an option. However, he signaled
that rehabilitation is not his concern, but rather "the
U.S.'s problem" as he is ready and willing to accept all
Yemeni detainees into the Yemeni prison system. (COMMENT.
Saleh would, in our judgment, be unable to hold returning
detainees in jail for any more than a matter of weeks before
public pressure ) or the courts ) forced their release.
END COMMENT.) Saleh urged the USG to design and implement a
rehabilitation and education program for the detainees and to
build a rehabilitation center in Yemen, but reiterated that
the U.S. would have to fund these projects, repeatedly
asking, "How many dollars is the U.S. going to bring?"
However, when Brennan offered $500,000 as an initial
investment currently available for the crafting of a
rehabilitation program, Saleh dismissed the offer as
insufficient. Saleh also assured Brennan that he was
committed to "freeing the innocent people after a complete
and total rehabilitation," suggesting a lack of clarity on
his own policy and on the status of Guantanamo detainees in
the ROYG legal system.


7. (S/NF) Saleh welcomed the letter from President Obama
that Brennan hand-carried, and expressed appreciation for
U.S. concern over the stability and economic hardships facing
the country. He agreed to move forward with the 10-point
plan outlining necessary economic reforms (reftel) but did
not provide details regarding dates or implementation goals.
Responding to Brennan's concerns that economic and other
assistance might be diverted through corrupt officials to
other purposes, Saleh urged the U.S. to donate supplies and
hardware rather than liquid funds in order to curb
corruption's reach. Saleh also told US officials that they
could have full access to financial records to ensure proper
usage of donor funding. (COMMENT. Saleh's preference for
infrastructure and equipment over cash displays a lack of
confidence in his own regime's ability to handle liquid
assets and hardly provides a viable solution for stemming the
curb of corruption in the long run. END COMMENT.)


8. (S/NF) Saleh again asked to visit the U.S., arguing that
it was necessary to resolve issues regarding the Guantanamo
detainees and increased military assistance. "We see this
visit as very important to reach mutual understanding and so
that you understand our requests and demands." Brennan
undertook to look into Saleh's claims of "promised" military
equipment that has not been delivered. In a one-on-one
session that followed the formal meeting, Brennan extended an
invitation to Saleh to meet President Obama at the White
House on October 6. Saleh also stated that there would be no
more delays in the U.S. Embassy's request to purchase lands
for the building of more secure housing facilities and that
the Shari'a Council would approve the transfer of the lands
from waqf (or publicly held) status to free-hold status.


9. (S/NF) COMMENT. Saleh was in vintage form during the two
hours he spent with DNSA Brennan, at times disdainful and
dismissive and at others, conciliatory and congenial. One
might easily conclude that his repeated assertion that
Yemen's national territory is open to the US to conduct
operations against AQAP reflects his interest in outsourcing
the CT effort in Yemen to the USG, especially in view of his
somewhat ominous claim that, should AQAP attacks occur in the
future, they will be the result of the U.S. having failed to
do enough to put the organization out of business.
Additionally, a concerted USG anti-terrorism campaign in
Yemen will free Saleh to continue to devote his limited
security assets to the ongoing war against Houthi rebels in
Sa'ada. The net effect, and one we strongly suspect Saleh
has calculated, of both the American and ROYG "iron fist"
unleashed at the same time in Yemen will be a clear message
to the southern movement or any other party interested in
generating political unrest in the country that a similar
fate awaits them.

10. (S/NF) COMMENT CONTINUED. Not surprisingly, Saleh was
far less animated when Brennan attempted to focus his
attention on the need for immediate action to relieve Yemen's
deteriorating socio-economic situation, largely limiting his
response to a pitch that the USG persuade recalcitrant donors
to speed up and increase their assistance to Yemen. After
stating petulantly in the group session that he was no longer
interested in an invitation to the White House, telling
Brennan that "my relationship with you is sufficient,"
Saleh's mood changed noticeably for the better when the
invitation was extended, and he had captured the prize he has
been chasing after for months. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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