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Obama, Yemen Leader Discuss Counterterrorism, Reconciliation

President Barack Obama and Yemen's President, Abdo Rabby Mansour Hadi talk to the media as they meet at the White House, August 1, 2013, in Washington.

President Barack Obama and Yemen's President, Abdo Rabby Mansour Hadi talk to the media as they meet at the White House, August 1, 2013, in Washington.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Yemen's president, Abdo Rabbo Mansour Hadi, held talks at the White House Thursday on the political reconciliation process in Yemen, counterterrorism cooperation and economic assistance.

Hadi's visit to Washington came at a pivotal time as Yemen continues difficult national negotiations for political, economic and other reforms.

Since 2012, after former president Ali Abdullah Saleh stepped down following mass demonstrations, Hadi has overseen a National Dialogue involving more than 500 delegates from across Yemeni society.

Obama has said the process could serve as a model for peaceful transitions and after their talks, on Thursday he praised progress achieved so far.

"Because of his leadership, he has been able to initiate a national dialogue that can potentially bring the parties all together in Yemen, and produce a constitution and a transition to a fully democratic government that can serve the interests of the people," said Obama.

Hadi said, "In this national dialogue actually we proved that 75 percent of the population of Yemen are young -- that is less than 45 years of age. They're seeking the change, a dignified lifestyle, democracy, that is justice [and] equality in the country."

Security and counterterrorism cooperation were high on the agenda. The United States continues to help Yemen combat al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, considered the most active and lethal group plotting against America and its interests.

Obama praised Yemen's cooperation and internal military reforms, saying these helped push AQAP out of territories it controlled.

"President Hadi recognizes that these threats are not only transnational in nature, but also cause severe hardship and prevent the kind of prosperity for the people of Yemen themselves," he said.

Obama has defended U.S. drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Yemen and elsewhere. Reports Thursday said the latest strike in Yemen killed at least three suspected militants.

Although not mentioned in their public remarks, the two leaders were expected to discuss President Obama's pledge to repatriate dozens of Yemenis from the U.S. military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Transfers have been blocked so far by ongoing concerns in the Obama administration and the U.S. Congress about security in Yemen.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said there would be no announcements about whether, when or under what circumstances Yemeni detainees would be repatriated.

"The lifting of the moratorium did not mean a mass exodus, it meant that we would then move to a case by case evaluation of each detainee, which has been the case [with] the non-Yemeni detainees," he said.

In a VOA interview, former U.S. ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine says the detainee question is among a series of issues as both countries seek to deepen their relationship.

"That [Yemeni Guantanamo detainees] is a critical issue to the Yemenis," she said. "His agreement to work on closing Guantanamo, to publicly support the transition government, to provide economic assistance, all of this is a signal from the Obama administration that we are moving beyond counter-terrorism to a more balanced relationship."

Bodine also said events in Syria and Egypt have focused the attention of Yemenis on the need to get their political transition process right.

Obama said the U.S. and international community remain committed to helping Yemen continue economic reforms that can help create jobs and stimulate growth as its transition continues.