Friction emerged Tuesday in the growing alliance with the Yemeni government as the U.S. Embassy ended a two-day closure triggered by a terror threat from al-Qaida.
The Yemen government, which sent thousand of troops this week to remote provinces where al-Qaida has set up strongholds, has been angered by suggestions the state is too weakened to handle the fight against terrorists.
The embassy closure on Sunday became a case in point, rankling some officials who said it gave the appearance that Yemeni security forces could not protect the facilities.
On Tuesday, as the embassy reopened, the Interior Ministry insisted the fight against al-Qaida was under control, saying Yemeni forces "have imposed a security cordon around al-Qaida elements everywhere they are present and...are observing and pursuing them around the clock."
The government also has carried out a series of U.S.-backed strikes against militant hideouts in the past month.
More broadly, the intensified partnership with the U.S. presents dilemmas for Yemen.
The government is concerned that too public an American role in the anti-terror campaign could embarrass the government, presenting it as weak before a Yemeni public where mistrust of the United States runs high. It also could bring a backlash from Islamic conservatives who are a major pillar of support for President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
Moreover, Yemeni officials appear worried American aid will come with pressure on Saleh to reform his rule in this unstable, divided nation.
The government is deeply sensitive over any hint of meddling in its internal affairs. But at the same time, it is being battered by multiple crises and needs assistance.
It has little control outside the capital, and heavily armed tribes hold sway over large parts of the mountainous, impoverished nation. Many tribes are disgruntled with Saleh, and some have allowed al-Qaida fighters to take refuge. On other fronts, it is battling Shiite rebels in the north and a revived separatist campaign in the once-independent south.
The U.S. Embassy reopened its doors following a two-day closure because of what Washington called an imminent threat of al-Qaida attack. The British Embassy, which had also closed, resumed operations, though consular and visa services remained closed.
Other Western embassies maintained heightened security, including the French and Czech, which closed to the public, and the Spanish and German, which were restricting the number of visitors.
The U.S. Embassy said it reopened after Yemeni actions the day before addressed the threats — an apparent reference to clashes Monday northeast of the capital in which two al-Qaida fighters were killed.
Still, several Yemeni security and government officials privately expressed anger over the closures. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of U.S.-Yemeni ties.
The Interior Ministry suggested the closings were unnecessary, insisting "security is good in the capital and the provinces, and there is no fear for the lives of any foreigner or foreign embassy." It said Yemeni forces had captured five militants in recent days in the capital and the western region of Hodeida.
Earlier this week, security officials said thousands of troops had been sent to three provinces — Marib, Jouf and Abyan — where al-Qaida is believed to have its strongest presence. There have been no reports of fighting or other operations in the wake of the deployment. It appeared to be aimed at beefing up the military's strength in the region, where the government has almost no authority.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Monday praised Yemeni action but warned that al-Qaida's offshoot in Yemen has become a global threat. The group is being blamed for planning the Christmas attempt to bomb a U.S. passenger jet.
President Barak Obama has sharply increased aid to beef up Yemen's counterterrorism forces and promised a deepening partnership with San'a.
Yemen has welcomed the American help, but the partnership could prove problematic as the two countries try to establish who is in control.
President Saleh's son Ahmad — who many believe is being groomed to succeed his father — heads the nation's counterrorism force, and the government would likely resist any U.S. attempt to bypass him in the fight.
Security officials privately expressed concern the U.S. and Britain will seek to create a new counterterrorism unit. Yemeni officials say American help should be focused on funding and training the existing forces and exchanges of intelligence.
In a further sign of the sensitivities, Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi underlined this week that there was no agreement allowing the U.S. to carry out strikes against al-Qaida with its own warplanes or cruise missiles.
There have been reports that U.S. missiles were used in strikes in December on al-Qaida hideouts, raising an outcry from some in Yemen over American intervention. U.S. officials have not confirmed the reports.
The government also appears to be resisting American pressure to resolve its costly battle with Shiite rebels, which U.S. officials worry is distracting it from the fight against al-Qaida.
Clinton hinted at the need to resolve the war, speaking in Washington Monday alongside the visiting Qatari foreign minister, whose country has offered to mediate between San'a and the rebels.
She said it must be made clear to Yemen "that there are expectations and conditions on our continuing support for the government so that they can take actions which will have a better chance to provide peace and stability in that region."
Yemeni Foreign Minister al-Qirbi on Monday dismissed Qatari mediation, saying the rebels must carry out a series of conditions the government has put forward for a cease-fire.
On Monday, Saleh met with the deputy defense and interior ministers of neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has strongly backed Yemen's fight against the rebels. For weeks, Saudi troops have been battling the rebels on their side of the border. Saudi Arabia on Tuesday underlined its support for "Yemeni unity."
AP correspondent Ahmed al-Haj in San'a contributed to this report.
On the Net:
U.S. Embassy in Yemen: http://yemen.usembassy.gov/
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