SANAA Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Monday he was ready to step down within 90 days of reaching a deal on a formal process for implementing a Gulf initiative aimed at ending the nine-month-old crisis in his country.
Saleh, who has so far refused to sign the accord proposed by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in April, told France's Channel 24 television in an interview that he had given his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, authority to negotiate a deal with the opposition.
Asked when he would leave office, Saleh said: "When an agreement on the Gulf initiative is reached, and when it is signed, and (it is agreed) on the operational mechanism and when elections are held, the president will leave."
Asked if there was a time frame for his departure, he said: "It is defined. It is within 90 days (of an agreement)."
"I have 33 years of experience in power and I know the difficulties, I know the negatives and positives. The one who clings to power is mad," he said.
An opposition official said on Sunday that Saleh was trying to thwart a mission by U.N. envoy Jamal Benomar to implement the U.N.-backed Gulf initiative, by insisting on staying in office until new elections are held.
"Saleh wants to preserve all his powers until the election of a new president and that is rejected by the opposition and because of this the U.N. envoy's mission is going to fail," said the official, who declined to be identified.
Benomar urged all Yemeni factions on Monday to reach an agreement "to save the Yemeni people from the sufferings of the current crisis," the Yemeni Defense Ministry's website said.
"I am in nearly daily contact with all political sides in Yemen and efforts are continuing to reach a peaceful end to the crisis," he added.
Under an "operational mechanism" proposed by Benomar, Saleh would step down immediately, triggering the formation of a national unity government ahead of early presidential elections. A body would be set up to restructure the armed forces.
Saleh said he had no objection to restructuring the armed forces, which split after the protests against his rule began in February. "Restructuring the army, I have no problem with that. The army belongs to the homeland and is not a personal property," he said.
Saleh also slammed the Arab Spring protests, calling the demonstrations "Arab anarchy."
He said support for these protests had come from a "small and weightless state" -- an apparent reference to Qatar, a wealthy Gulf Arab state and home to the Al Jazeera satellite TV channel, which gave sympathetic coverage to the Arab Spring uprisings, particularly those in Libya and Syria.
(Reporting by Sami Aboudi in Dubai and Mohammed Ghobari in Sanaa; editing by Tim Pearce)