Cablegate: Saleh Sticks to His Ct Guns, but Offers a Way Out


DE RUEHYN #0045/01 0111405
R 111405Z JAN 10

S E C R E T SANAA 000045



E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/11/2020

REF: A. SANAA 0014
B. 09 SANAA 1299

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

1. (S) SUMMARY. After several successful counter-terrorism
operations aimed at uprooting an entrenched al-Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), President Saleh announced on
January 9 that he was willing to negotiate with AQAP members
who renounced violence, signaling a return to one of the
tactics Saleh has used previously to control the wide
spectrum of Islamic extremists in Yemen. With a variety of
domestic actors ) from conservative clerics to the political
opposition and the tribes - protesting the ROYG's recent
strikes against AQAP, Saleh is feeling pressure to shore up
his domestic political base by offering the possibility of a
softer approach to AQAP's lower-ranking membership. He has
not, however, shied away from his commitment to go after
al-Qaeda's top leadership, which he understands is unlikely
to either renounce terrorism or agree to negotiate with the
ROYG, especially after a series of sweeping CT operations in
December and January. END SUMMARY.

2. (S) During a January 9 interview with Abu Dhabi TV,
President Saleh said that while he was willing to negotiate
with members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who
were willing to renounce violence, he would continue to
pursue to the best of his abilities those who continued to
engage in terrorism. "Dialogue is the best way ) even with
al-Qaeda, if they set aside their weapons and return to
reason," he said. Official news outlets, including 26
September, al-Jamhurriya, and al-Mutamar, reprinted the
complete text of the interview on January 10, signaling the
government's official endorsement of the president's comment.
(Note: The interview echoes his January 1 editorial in
official al-Thawra newspaper, in which he called for the
Houthis and AQAP to renounce violence and embrace dialogue
with the government as well as his December 14 call for a
National Dialogue to include a variety of societal actors
(Ref A). End Note.)

3. (S) xxxxx told PolOff on January 11 he was surprised
at the president's openness in offering to talk to members of
al-Qaeda, but that the ROYG has a history of dialogue through
the rehabilitation program for "reformed" extremists. (Note:
In the past, Minister of Religious Endowments Judge Hamoud
Hitar ran a now-defunct rehabilitation program for religious
extremists based on dialogue. End Note.) Saleh is known for
negotiating with his domestic opponents, including al-Qaeda.
For years, he has negotiated with, exploited, bribed and
cajoled Islamic extremists in Yemen for his own political
gain (Ref B). Even officials at the Ministry of Foreign
Affairs (MFA), including Head of the North America Department
Adil al-Sunaini, acknowledged that negotiating with AQAP is
an "old government policy." "Our good president says things
to play the old game and keep everyone under his thumb,"xxxxx
told PolOff on January
11. (Comment: Despite a history of negotiating with
al-Qaeda, Saleh's current offer of dialogue to AQAP members
who renounce violence is unlikely to apply to the group's
hardened leadership. Instead, the president is likely
appealing to his religious base by offering an "out" to the
organization's rank and file, who, after a series of punitive
operations against AQAP in December and January, might be
looking for just such an opportunity. End Comment.)

4. (S) Saleh's remarks come after three weeks of public
criticism of the ROYG's close CT cooperation with the U.S. -
and specifically a December 17 airstrike in Abyan governorate
- from a variety of domestic actors, including religious
clerics, tribal leaders and the political opposition. One of
the most significant challenges has come from the
conservative religious establisment. In a January 8 Friday
sermon, conservative Salafi cleric and powerful Islah member
Abdulmajid al-Zindani railed against Yemen's CT cooperation
with the U.S., accusing it of wanting to "occupy" Yemen,
according to local press reports. Dubai-based al-Arabiya
reported on January 11 that influential Aden-based Salafi
cleric Ali Mohammed Umar said his followers would fight with
AQAP against any American intervention in Yemen. "The
president's two pillars of support are the military and the
Salafis. These comments were for the Salafis," xxxxx said.
told PolOff on January 11, "Do not give these remarks too
much care. It is just a media statement." xxxxx pointed out
that the remarks, made in Arabic on a Middle Eastern
satellite TV channel, were intended for domestic - not

Western - consumption. xxxxx, told EmbOff on January 11 thatxxxxx
on the president's remarks
because they were "not to be taken seriously."


5. (S) While Saleh's remarks reflect a need to appease
certain domestic constituencies upset by close cooperation
with the U.S. against AQAP, he has not given any indications
of shying away from future operations against AQAP
leadership. In the same interview, Saleh said that
terrorists are a "danger not just to Yemen,s security but to
international security, especially al-Qaeda." While the
president likes to keep all options on the table and never
writes off the possibility of negotiations with any political
opponent, his current offer is likely to apply to AQAP's rank
and file - not its hardened, isolated and hunted leadership.
In Yemen, especially, actions speak louder than words, and
Saleh's actions have not yet wavered in uprooting al-Qaeda.
End comment.

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