Ms. Clinton was preceded by James Baker in 1990, Secretary of State under the first President George Bush, who visited Yemen before its unification. Other high-ranking US officials, such as Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “Central Command” chief David Petraeus, and President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan have also frequented Sana’a in recent years.
Her arrival comes within the context of a Middle East tour meant to shore up the opposition of friendly Arab regimes to Iran’s nuclear program, with other stops including the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and Qatar.
One of the main goals of Ms. Clinton’s trip was to convince a skeptical Yemeni government and populace that America’s recent intense interest in the country did not solely involve combatting terrorism.
Statements to that effect peppered her visit, yet few observers doubted that hours of private discussions with the Yemeni president and officials focused especially on countering the threat of armed groups based in Yemen.
“I want to be frank about the fact that there are terrorists operating from Yemeni territory today,” Mrs. Clinton said to an audience of parliamentarians, businesspeople and students at the Movenpick Hotel in Sana’a. “Stopping these threats would be a priority for any nation, and it is a priority for us.”
At the same gathering, Ms. Clinton affirmed the United States’ commitment to Yemen’s development as well, though she claimed that the country’s economy had been “sapped by terrorism,” which intimidated potential investors and tourists who could reverse sagging fortunes.
“Over the long run, Yemen’s economic and political development and its security are deeply intertwined,” she claimed.
The Secretary of State’s motorcade also made a quick visit through Old Sana’a’s streets en route to the presidential palace. Security for the trip was high, and members of her staff were reportedly agitated that news of the surprise visit had been made known to local news outlets before Mrs. Clinton’s arrival.
America sent $130 million to Yemen in nonmilitary aid in 2010, up from $17 million in 2008, an increase that almost meets its military aid for 2010, which stands at $170 million.
Relations between the Yemeni and American government are generally considered to be at a low ebb, in the wake of unprecedented US pressure for the country to combat al-Qaeda, and recent embarrassing diplomatic leaks which painted both parties in a poor light.
Ms. Clinton told reporters: “I could have a big picture of the world and it could say: ‘The Apology Tour,’ because I have been very, very much involved in reaching out to leaders and others who have concerns about