Hillary Clinton: Yemen Conflict Won't End Until Saleh Steps Down

ABC News' Kirit Radia reports: Amid reports of dozens killed in clashes in Yemen over the past 24 hours, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today the violence will only end when President Ali Abdullah Saleh leaves the country.

“We cannot expect this conflict to end unless President Saleh and his government move out of the way to permit the opposition and civil society to begin a transition to political and economic reform,” she told reporters in Washington.

The United States had backed a deal brokered by Yemen’s neighbors that would usher President Saleh out of power and pave the way for a democratic process that involved the long-suppressed opposition. Saleh had suggested he would agree to the deal, but ultimately would not sign it, touching off renewed clashes in the impoverished Arab country.

“President Saleh was given a very good offer, that we strongly backed, by the Gulf countries,” Clinton said.

“We continue to watch the situation, and we are where we've been for weeks in doing everything we can, along with the international community, to convince President Saleh to step down from power. If it wasn't obvious before, it certainly should be now that his presence remains a source of great conflict, and unfortunately, as we have watched over the last several days, even, you know, military action and violence,” she added.

Forces loyal to the president are now locked in a violent struggle against tribal groups and opposition figures vying for power. The clashes have overtaken a peaceful popular uprising that threatened to unseat Saleh through youth-led protests in the street. As the situation has deteriorated, last week the United States withdrew some non-essential personnel and all family members from its embassy due to security concerns.

President Saleh has been in power for nearly 33 years and was considered a key U.S. ally in a strategic country that is home to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the dangerous terror group that has tried to carry out several attacks in the United States in recent years. Saleh has warned that without him in power al Qaeda will be a greater threat.

U.S. military trainers have worked to improve Yemen’s security forces in a battle against terror groups and the United States has been allowed to conduct limited strikes against terror targets inside Yemen.

The Obama administration had been reluctant to withdraw its support for Saleh, fearing the political chaos that might ensue could provide an opening for al Qaeda to regroup, but shifted its position after the president started backing out of the deal with the opposition and as Saleh’s crackdown on demonstrators increased.

-- Kirit Radia

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