RIYADH (Reuters) - Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has agreed to look at restarting a Gulf Arab initiative aimed at ending the country’s violent political standoff with a peaceful transfer of power, a Yemeni government official said on Wednesday.
Saleh has already agreed to the plan brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) three times, only to back out of it at the last minute. His latest gesture followed prodding to hand over power by the United States, which fears that Yemen’s political vacuum could strengthen the local wing of al Qaeda.
The official said Saleh had met members of Yemen’s ruling party in Riyadh, where he has been receiving medical treatment since being badly injured in an assassination attempt in June.
“He agreed with them to explore ways of restarting the GCC initiative and of creating a mechanism that will ensure a peaceful transfer of power,” the official told Reuters.
Saleh had agreed to work with the main opposition parties, other Yemeni groups, international bodies and concerned countries to finds ways to end the crisis, the official said.
Yemen has been sliding toward civil war during protests demanding Saleh’s overthrow since January. The transition plan brokered by the six-nation GCC has been moribund since he last avoided signing it in May.
The Riyadh meeting was attended by Yemen’s prime minister — who was also wounded in the bomb attack that forced Saleh to seek treatment in the Saudi capital — the head of a security agency and other senior loyalists, the official said.
Saleh emerged Sunday from the Riyadh hospital where he had been receiving treatment for severe burns and other injuries. He renewed a promise to return home even though the United States, which had long made Saleh a cornerstone of its counterterrorism policy, urged him not to.
U.S. diplomats relayed that message to Saleh in Riyadh, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.
Soon after, the United Nations Security Council called for “an inclusive, orderly and Yemeni-led process of political transition that meets the needs and aspirations of the Yemeni people for change.”
Jamal Benomar, the Yemen envoy of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was expected in Sanaa soon, the Yemeni official said following the meeting of Saleh’s close advisers.
As the crisis over Saleh’s fate has paralyzed Yemen, longstanding conflicts with Islamists have flared up in the country’s south. Militants have seized parts of one southern province, with fighting forcing 90,000 inhabitants to flee.
Saleh’s last refusal sign the GCC plan provoked weeks of fighting with a branch of the al Hashed tribal confederation which left parts of the capital Sanaa in ruins, and led to the assassination attempt.
Forces loyal to Saleh have skirmished in recent days with the other party to those battles, al Hashed chieftain Sadeq al-Ahmar near the latter’s compound in Sanaa, sparking fears of a renewed bout of the fighting that raged there in May.
Reporting by Mohamed Sudam; Writing by Joseph Logan; Editing by David Stamp