Saleh quibbles over Yemen transition

The Yemeni "transition" agreement negotiated by the Gulf Cooperation Council is falling apart even sooner than expected. 
Fearing a coup in his absence, President Saleh is refusing to go to Riyadh with opposition parties for the signing ceremony.

On Saturday, he was visited in Sana'a by Abdullatif al-Zayani, secretary-general of the GCC, who was seeking to persuade him. But according to CNN the meeting was cut short and  Zayani "appeared visibly angry as he passed reporters and refused to answer questions en route to his plane." (The Yemen Times saysthe meeting never even began, because Saleh refused to see Zayani in person and sent representatives instead.)

Saleh is apparently still saying he will sign it, but only in Sana'a and only in his capacity as head of Yemen's ruling party, not as head of state.

This might seem a technical point, but the agreement is meant to provide a mechanism for Saleh's departure from the presidency, not from his party, and his quibbling about signatures is a further sign that he is looking for any excuse to wriggle out.

This is embarrassing for the GCC, though they don't deserve much sympathy for putting forward such a wretched deal in the first place. It's also embarrassing for the US, which had hailed the agreement as "historic" and urged the protesters on the streets to calm down.

Even if Saleh can be cajoled into signing during the next few days, it's already very clear that Saleh has no intention of seeing the agreement implemented – so it's better to let it fail now than to string out the process.

With luck, the US and other countries will finally realise that the deal was never going to work and that some serious diplomatic pressure is needed to tell Saleh to stop killing protesters – and leave.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 1 May 2011