Further protests in Yemen

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Any talk of democratic government is premature in Yemen, and that country's longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, today rejected an offer for talks leading to his departure. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets in various cities in Yemen to demand Saleh's ouster. The U.S. has considered Saleh an ally in the fight against terrorism, but the Obama administration is now reportedly trying to nudge Saleh to step down. Charles Dunbar was U.S. Ambassador to Yemen from 1988 to '91. He's now a professor of international relations at Boston University. Dunbar says Saleh will leave eventually, but reluctantly.

Charles Dunbar: He will fight very hard. He's a terrific negotiator and he will go down in history as the person who really put the Yemeni state into a situation where you could call it a state.

Werman: As opposed to a failed state.

Dunbar: As opposed to a failed state. Unfortunately, it is working its way back in that direction at the moment and we'll just have to see, but it's a long way until the end of this game. But I would say that this is going to end with President Saleh departing in some way.

Werman: I'd like to know how you think things are going to unfold in Yemen at this point?

Dunbar: Well, it seems that change of regime is what is being called for in many places, and Yemenis have emphasized that by changing Tahrir Square, their main square, to Tahir[? 1:29] Square, which is Change Square. So they are very much focused on seeing President Saleh go. How far beyond that they want to go is the question. What needs to emerge, frankly, is somebody who can be as effective as not just a deal maker, but also somebody with an agenda of strengthening the central government institutions like Saleh. So, we'll see what happens, but I don't think automatically Yemen should jump to the top of Foreign Policy magazine's list of failed states. I think it should be down at a respectable 10 or 11 or something like that. There is that danger, but Yemenis are good at getting out of problems.

Werman: What do you think is the U.S. interest in Yemen, keeping al-Qaeda at bay or supporting democracy, and can the U.S. support democracy and not al-Qaeda run wild?

Dunbar: Certainly, first of all, the U.S. objective in Yemen is the elimination of the position of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula now holds. I think that supporting democracy in Yemen, whatever that means, in the particularly complicated, and I will say politically pluralistic environment of Yemen, it's very hard to define. But I do think it is not a question of rushing to elections. We're going to see the results of this, and this isn't our fault, it's the widening, looking over at Egypt, the whole fight there or a big part of the fight there now is that the powers that be want to hold elections very quickly, so that everything can go back to normal.

Werman: Well, this is exactly where I wanted to go next. I mean spun slightly differently, but isn't this the conundrum for the U.S. in the Mid-East right now â�" supporting the democracy or keeping the peace at large. I mean that turns foreign policy into kind of a rope pole. Is there a coherent U.S. foreign policy in the Mid-East right now?

Dunbar: In a large sense I would say almost, and that is to say that I think the Obama administration, largely, but not entirely, has decided to watch what happens in this second Arab awakening; and if the people really seem to be waking up as they are in a number of places, to go along with it. There will obviously be concerns and I think the reflexive concern that I hope we can learn to master is, my heavens, the Muslim Brotherhood is going to participate in government. I think we should take a deep breath and let the Muslim Brotherhood in places particularly like Egypt to give them a chance to see if they will do what they say they're going to do, and not simply say if the Islamists get in there all is over.

Werman: Charles Dunbar, former U.S. Ambassador to Yemnen and professor at Boston University. Ambassador Dunbar, thank you very much for coming in.

Dunbar: It's been a pleasure to talk to you.