Yemen 'transition' deal is a non-starter

The Gulf Cooperation Council said on Sunday that it will send its secretary-general, Abdul-Latif al-Zayani, back to Yemen for more talks following the aborted mission on Saturday when he was publicly snubbed by President Saleh.

Saleh has been refusing to sign a "transition" agreement negotiated by the GCC (with American and EU backing) which would involve him stepping down eventually in return for immunity from prosecution.

It is to be hoped that the GCC will not waste much more time over this, because the sooner the agreement is abandoned, the better it will be for everyone. 

As it stands, the agreement is virtually unworkable and Saleh is now adding all sorts of conditions which cannot be met – thus providing a pretext for him to stay in power.

Saleh's re-interpretation of the plan, according to the ruling party's newspaper, is that once a national unity government has been appointed, "sit-ins, marches and rebellion" must cease and "elements causing the crisis" must leave the country (plus various other things) before implementation of the agreement can proceed further. These are impossible demands, since basically they require a state of tranquillity that Yemen has not seen for years.

All this prevarication is extremely damaging to Yemen. Aside from the issue of Saleh's presidency, the country faces multiple crises needing urgent attention – not least of them the provision of adequate food and water – and the international Friends of Yemen group, set up last year to provide aid, is currently in limbo.

It has reached the stage where none of these other problems can be tackled properly while Saleh remains in power. The US and the GCC countries are understandably worried about what will happen after Saleh goes, but those fears have probably 
been exaggerated and the longer the current turmoil continues the more difficult it will be to manage the aftermath.

It's time for the US and others to grasp the nettle and tell Saleh they are not going to work with him any longer and that for the sake of his country he should go – now.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 2 May 2011