There’s a bizarre story, attributed to an unnamed “senior US official”, that President Saleh left Saudi Arabia, where he had been recuperating from bomb injuries, and returned to Yemen last week without the knowledge of the Saudis or the Americans. He is said to have “bolted the kingdom under the pretence of going to the airport for something else”.
A report in the Financial Times says:
“Neither the US nor the Saudis were aware of his planned departure, said the official, calling it a ‘clever, canny’ trick by the president. ‘We are not happy at all,’ he added.
“Other western officials have also expressed frustration at Mr Saleh’s return to Yemen, with two different versions of his flight circulating in diplomatic circles.
“One says he told the Saudis he had decided to move to Ethiopia; the other suggests he went to the airport on the pretence of seeing off other Yemeni officials. Saudi officials could not be reached for comment. They have previously described Mr Saleh as a ‘guest’ whose movements were not restricted.”
Trickery is certainly a part of Saleh’s character but I find the tale almost impossible to believe. Could he really have gone to the airport and slipped out of the kingdom as eaily as that?
It seems more likely that the Saudis and Americans – now realising that his return was a bad idea – are trying to cover their backs.
It’s worth recalling that Saleh had met the Saudi king a few days earlier (their first meeting since Saleh was injured in the explosion last June) and, according to the official account, they discussed “ongoing violence in Yemen”.
I’m guessing here, but I would imagine Saleh told the king that his son and nephews were unable to control the deteriorating situation in Yemen and the only solution was to let the Big Man return and sort things out.
The Americans had already given Saleh a green light of sorts. On September 4, a report in the Yemen Post quoted John Brennan, President Obama’s counter-terrorism adviser, as saying he “now felt comfortable enough” to allow Saleh’s return, though he would not condone such a move either. Presumably Brennan is not feeling quite so comfortable about it now.