Yemen risks providing a permanent new haven for al-Qaida without urgent help to rebuild its deteriorating economy, quell internal revolts and bolster work to tackle terrorism, foreign ministers warned at a global meeting Wednesday.
Talks in London involving about 20 nations offered backing for plans to bolster Yemen's fragile government as it wrestles with a deepening threat from global terrorism, a Shiite insurgency in the north and a secessionist drive in the south.
In a joint declaration following a two-hour meeting, ministers warned that Yemen's problems could threaten the stability of Arabian Peninsula if they go unchecked.
"The challenges in Yemen are growing and, if not addressed, risk threatening the stability of the country and broader region," ministers said in their statement.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Yemen's instability poses "an urgent national security priority," to the United States and other nations, urging swift political and economic reforms aimed at addressing crippling poverty, food and water shortages and mass illiteracy.
"To help the people of Yemen, we — the international community — must do more," Clinton told a news conference following the talks. "The government of Yemen must also do more. This must be a partnership if it is to have a successful outcome."
The talks in London were hurriedly convened following the unsuccessful Christmas Day airline attack in the United States, which was claimed by Yemen's al-Qaida affiliate.
Clinton and delegates from the Middle East, Russia and Europe discussed concerns that declining oil revenues are weakening Yemen's ability to deliver basic services — stirring dissent and allowing terrorists a firmer foothold in the country.
"We are here because we know that Yemen faces a crisis that could have implications for the people of Yemen and the whole region," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told the talks.
Ministers urged Yemen to pursue a possible cease-fire with Shiite rebels known as the Hawthis, whose bloody revolt in Yemen's north is diverting resources and attention away from the country's fight against al-Qaida. Clinton said effort also was needed to resolve a long-running dispute with a secessionist movement in Yemen's south.
Supporters of the secession movement staged a noisy protest Wednesday close to the talks at London's Foreign Office.
"Insecure borders and internal political conflict fuel instability by opening space for terrorists — both homegrown and foreign — to organize, plot, and train," Clinton said, in remarks prepared for the talks.
Yemen has been reluctant to cede to outside pressure to carry out reforms or resolve internal conflicts, but the joint declaration said Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Mujur's government "recognizes the urgent need to address these issues, which will need sustained and focused engagement."
Delegates didn't pledge any new funding at the talks, but instead agreed that a new body — the Friends of Yemen — will help the nation use $5 billion donated in 2006, most of which has not been used because of concerns about how effectively aid can be deployed.
Miliband said that the Gulf Cooperation Council would host a meeting on Yemen in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Feb. 22-23, and that the Friends of Yemen — which includes the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Group of Eight countries and other neighbors of Yemen — also would call talks in the region in the coming months.
"In tackling terrorism, it is vital to tackle its root causes. In Yemen's case these are manifold," Miliband told reporters.
Officials said the U.S. military and intelligence agencies and Yemen also are participating in joint operations aimed at rooting out al-Qaida terrorists, and discussing a new aviation unit to help bolster Yemen's counterterrorism forces.
A Yemeni official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, said that while the intelligence sharing has been critical, the Yemeni military badly needs military equipment — including helicopters.
Joint operations have killed scores of people, among them six of 15 top leaders of a regional al-Qaida affiliate, according to one accounting, and closer to four leaders according to another, officials told The Associated Press. The discrepancy is likely because Yemen and the U.S. have different lists of wanted targets.
The operations were approved by President Barack Obama, began six weeks ago and involved several dozen troops from the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command. U.S. officials have said repeatedly that American advisers do not take part in raids in Yemen, but provide intelligence, surveillance, planning and other weapons assistance.
As part of the operations, Obama approved a Dec. 24 strike against a compound where a U.S. citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-Yemeni Islamic cleric, was thought to be meeting with other regional al-Qaida leaders. He was not the focus of the strike and was not killed.
Al-Awlaki has been connected with the alleged perpetrators of two recent attacks on American soil: the Nov. 5 shooting rampage at the Fort Hood, Texas, army base that killed 13 people and the Christmas airliner bombing attempt.
Associated Press Writers Pauline Jelinek and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.
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