Yemen President Travels to US for Treatment

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

Audio Transcript:

Lisa Mullins: The turmoil in Syria is reminiscent of the protests and violence in Yemen. The difference is that in Yemen, the country's longtime president has accepted a deal to step down from power. Ali Abdullah Saleh left his country yesterday. He's on his way to the United States for medical treatment. Before he left Saleh was granted immunity from prosecution. He also asked for forgiveness for any shortcomings during his 33 year reign. However, the protestors who turned out today in the capital, Sanaa, weren't in a forgiving mood.

Protestors: [speaking Arabic]

Mullins: They demandad that Saleh and his aids be put on trial for atrocities committed while they were in power. Freelance reporter Laura Kasinof has been covering the developments in Yemen, where she has lived off and on over the past four years. She's now in Washington, DC. Where is President Saleh of Yemen heading here in the United States?

Laura Kasinof: What I've heard from Yemeni government officials is that he is headed to a hospital in New York for surgery and for neurosurgery there, a very specialized surgery that can only be done best in certain places.

Mullins: How long will he be here?

Kasinof: I'm sure it's up in the air and I'm sure it depends when his treatment and how well he recuperates from the surgery as well. The one is that he has said and officials have said to me that he's planning to be back in Yemen before the presidential elections on February 21.

Mullins: Were there any conditions put on his visit here to the United States by Washington?

Kasinof: I haven't heard of any conditions. I mean it wouldn't surprise me if there were some back room deals going on, but the United States government has been very specific that he is going for medical treatment and then he will return to Yemen.

Mullins: Why would Washington allow him in at all? This is a man who's accused of attacking his own people, who did not have a stellar legacy for the entire time that he was in office. Why bring him here at all for treatment?

Kasinof: I think there's two lines of thought. One is that the United States thinks that it would be beneficial for him to be out of the country right now, and if there's a way for that to happen, the Vice President, his deputy who now is the de facto president and who will officially be president after February 21, or at least that's the plan, he definitely has more freedom of movement and he really sort of steps up more when Saleh is out of the country. And that happened this past summer when Saleh was in Saudi Arabia after the bomb attack in June. The other is more of a diplomatic reason and that is that Saleh is the only Arab dictator who has sort of been, unlike Assad, and unlike Gaddafi, and unlike Mubarak, he has cooperated with the international community, with this internationally brokered plan for political transition to happen. That said, the United States still wants him to cooperate with this plan for a political transition and so he does need surgery, he does need surgery outside of Yemen and at a good facility. And so the United States think that if they would give him this, he would continue to cooperate with the United States and with the international community when it comes to political transition in Yemen, because at the end of the day transition in Yemen and sort of getting Yemen out of the stalemate that it currently finds itself in is beneficial for the world because of the extent to which the country has fallen apart during the political stalemate.

Mullins: Laura, is there any guarantee that he will not try to resume the presidency when he gets back to Yemen?

Kasinof: Other than the fact that the world is now watching and he did sign a plan that said that he would hand over power, and after February 21 there would be a new president of Yemen, are there any back room guarantees? I don't know, but he signed a deal. It was brokered by the international community that he would hand over power on February 21. So if he isn't going to do that he's definitely going to isolate himself from the international community.

Mullins: All right, Laura Kasinof, freelance journalist based in Sanaa, Yemen, speaking to us now from Washington, DC, thank you, Laura.

Kasinof: Thanks for having me.