U.S. ambassador meets Yemen's Hadi in Aden

SANAA (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to Yemen visited President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in Aden on Sunday, their first public meeting since Washington closed its embassy in Sanaa last month after Houthis took full control there.

Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi (R) talks with U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller (C) during a meeting in the southern port city of Aden March 2, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

Hadi has resumed official duties from southern Yemen’s main city, where he fled last month after Houthi fighters put him under house arrest in Sanaa when they stormed his private residence and the presidency compound in January.

Washington has been worried over a deepening crisis in Yemen after the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim Houthi group overran Sanaa last September and sidelined Hadi’s government.

It fears the move will further embolden al Qaeda’s local branch, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which sees Shi’ites as heretics.

Local media published photos of Ambassador Matthew Tueller seated with Hadi at the presidential compound in the al-Tawahi district of Aden.

Aden television quoted Tueller as saying through an Arabic language interpreter: “There is no choice before Yemenis other than what they have chosen, which is the national dialogue that President Hadi also supports.”

He was referring to nearly a year of talks held by various political factions on political and administrative reforms.

Tueller made no mention of any plans to establish a diplomatic presence in Aden, after the U.S. embassy in Sanaa was closed last month due to what it described as the deteriorating security situation in the capital.

Speculation that Washington might relocate its embassy to Aden rose after Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states moved their missions to the city.

A senior U.S. official traveling with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Montreux, Switzerland says Washington was not considering establishing a U.S. embassy in Aden.

“No. We are currently exploring the option of some embassy staff relocating to another country in the region to continue their engagement on Yemen,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

After years of crisis, Yemen now risks descending into a full-blown civil war pitting regional, political, tribal and sectarian rivals against each other in a nation that shares a long border with top global oil exporter Saudi Arabia.

The United States has long conducted drone strikes on the militants, a strategy critics say has failed to make a decisive difference and has stoked anti-U.S. sentiment.

Reporting by Mohammed Mukhashaf in Aden and Arshad Mohammed in Montreux, Switserland; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Tom Heneghan