Wounded Saleh Vows to Return to Yemen. Can Saudis Stop Him?

By LaFranchi, Howard | The Christian Science Monitor, June 6, 2011 | Go to article overview

Wounded Saleh Vows to Return to Yemen. Can Saudis Stop Him?


LaFranchi, Howard, The Christian Science Monitor


Yemen's President Saleh, recuperating in Saudi Arabia from an attack, insists he will return to his strife-torn country. The Saudis would rather he didn't, but what will they do to stop him?

With violence flaring in Yemen and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh insisting he will return to his country in the coming days from a medical stay in Saudi Arabia, a key question becomes: Will the Saudis act to impede his return?

Saudi Arabia's actions on this and other crises in the Arabian Peninsula are likely to reveal not just how involved the Saudi kingdom is in the region's events, but how far it is willing to go to try to mold their outcome.

The Saudi government, as much as the US, has been trying for weeks to convince President Saleh to accept a political transition deal brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (the GCC includes Saudi Arabia) and step down from power. Saleh is in Riyadh recuperating from injuries he received in a rocket attack on the presidential compound in Sanaa on Friday.

The race is now on - led by the Saudis and Americans - to convince Saleh to stay where he is and abandon the presidency. But the wily Saleh is likely to do what he now promises and return to Sanaa, many Yemen and regional experts say, even if it is at the cost of another Yemeni civil war.

"There will be inducements from the Saudis to convince him to stay, but my guess is Saleh will return - and there will be a slide towards civil war," says Patrick Clawson, an expert on the Persian Gulf states at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies in Washington.

But the Saudis are likely to stick to their traditional means of diplomatic persuasion - financial - and are much less likely to keep Saleh on their territory against his will, Mr. Clawson says.

"It would be very uncharacteristic of the Saudis to try to hold the president," he says. "Instead they will offer some very sizable inducements," which Clawson defines as "large amounts of money to be offered to Saleh and his family."

And one reason the inducements won't work, he adds, is that, given the Saudis deep concerns about the implications of instability in Yemen, Saleh will figure that they are likely to "pay him anyway - and that would not be a crazy judgment on his part."

Saudi Arabia has a long history of meddling in next-door neighbor Yemen's affairs - and a poor track record of getting what it wants.

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