U.S. sees security breakthrough in Yemen

Wednesday, June 4, 2003

The United States and Yemen have agreed to bolster security cooperation.

U.S. officials said Yemen has agreed to the opening of an FBI office in Sanaa. They said the agreement was formalized during the visit by FBI director Robert Mueller to Yemen.

On Monday, Mueller met Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in the southern port of Aden, Middle East Newsline reported. In October 2000, 17 U.S. sailors were killed in an Al Qaida suicide strike on the USS Cole, anchored in Aden.

"He [Mueller] also underlined the existing close security cooperation between the United States and Yemen, and expressed the hope that the relationship would continue and develop further," a U.S. embassy statement in Sanaa said on Monday. "In this regard, he told President Saleh about the establishment of a legat [legal attache] office at the U.S. mission in Sanaa."

Officials said the opening of the FBI office in Sanaa could mark a turn in nearly two years of efforts to improve security cooperation with Yemen. They said the Bush administration has long been dismayed by the slow pace of cooperation between the two countries.

In several cases, officials said, Yemen has blocked the arrival of U.S. security personnel and equipment meant to locate and target Al Qaidainsurgents. They said that despite assurances by Saleh lower-level officials had imposed obstacles on the freedom of movement by U.S. security and military personnel in Yemen.

The officials said cooperation began to improve in late 2002 when Sanaa approved a U.S. Special Operations Forces Command operation that killed an Al Qaida operative in an attack by a Predator unmanned air vehicle.

The establishment of an FBI office in Sanaa is expected to faciliate the U.S. security presence in Yemen. FBI agents have been in Yemen since the USS Cole bombing.

Last month, the State Department praised U.S.-Yemeni security cooperation. A State Department report on global terrorism, released in May, said that since September 2001, Yemen has tightened border security, improved visa procedures and "worked to enhance its intelligence, military and law-enforcement cooperation with the United States."

"The government of Yemen has continued a broad counterterrorism campaign against Al Qaida and suspected Al Qaida members within its territory and provided excellent cooperation with the United States," the State Department report on terrorism said.

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