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Monday, June 27, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Yemen's reportedly disfigured president may address nation from Saudi Arabia

CAIRO — The sons of President Ali Abdullah Saleh are resisting U.S. and Saudi efforts for a transfer of power in Yemen as their father recovers in a Riyadh hospital from burns suffered in an an attack on his residence.


Western diplomatic sources said Saleh's sons remain in control of Yemen's military and were blocking U.S. and Saudi attempts to oust the regime. They said Saleh's sons, particularly Ahmed, and Khaled, have maintained operations against the opposition and were stopping the ascendency of Yemeni Vice President Abbed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, appointed interim leader.

"The [Saleh] family is not leaving and will not step down without a fight," a diplomat said.

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On June 26, Yemen announced that the Saudi leadership has allowed Saleh to give a televised address to Yemen by June 29. A Yemeni official warned that Saleh has been disfigured by burns on his face and body.

"The president will appear within the next 48 hours despite our fear that the burns on his features and on different parts of his body will be an obstacle given that his appearance will not be as the media expects it," Saleh's spokesman Ahmed Al Sufi said.

Ahmed has been regarded as the most powerful of Saleh's sons. Ahmed commands the Republican Guard, assigned to protect the president, and was the key liasion to U.S. counter-insurgency efforts in Yemen. Ahmed was also said to have ordered air and other strikes on rebel tribes in Yemen.

"It is fair to say that at this point, Saleh is being held against his will in Saudi Arabia," a diplomatic source said. "But the Saudis don't feel they can hold him forever."

The sources said Saudi Arabia and the United States have urged Ahmed and Khaled to allow Hadi to succeed their father until elections are held. But they said Saleh's sons insist that their father return from Saudi Arabia, where he has undergone medical treatment since June 4.

"We continue to believe that an immediate, peaceful, and orderly transition is in the best interest of the Yemeni people," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman said during a visit to Sanaa on June 23. "We urge all sides to engage in dialogue that peacefully moves Yemen forward."

The diplomats said Washington has been working with Riyad to prevent Saleh's return to Yemen. They said Saudi Arabia and the United States agreed that Saleh's return to Yemen would resume the civil war and prevent any hope for a transfer of power.

"We expect the president to take a decision in the best interests of the Yemeni people," Feltman said. "It is a Yemeni decision, not an American decision."

The medical condition of Saleh, president since 1979, remains unclear. Saudi officials have been quoted as saying that Saleh was seriously injured and required weeks if not months of rehabilitation. But the diplomats said Saleh was capable of returning to Sanaa but prevented from doing so by Riyad and Washington.

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