- Los Angeles Times -
Yemeni officials on Sunday dismissed the threat posed by Al Qaeda in their country as "exaggerated" and downplayed the possibility of cooperating closely with the United States in fighting Islamic militants, even as the U.S. and Britain temporarily closed their diplomatic outposts in Yemen because of unspecified Al Qaeda threats.
The statements by Yemen's foreign minister, chief of national security and Interior Ministry came a day after the region's top American military commander vowed to step up U.S. military support for the beleaguered Arabian Peninsula nation.
Analysts said the Yemeni statements reflected domestic political concerns about making President Ali Abdullah Saleh appear weak and beholden to the West as he faces numerous political challenges.
The group Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the failed attempt at bombing a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day. The alleged attacker's claim that he was tutored in Yemen set off alarm bells in Western capitals about the relatively lawless nation of 23 million, which is also facing an insurgency in the north and a separatist movement in the south.
U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus visited Yemen on Saturday and vowed to give Saleh increased aid to fight Al Qaeda. His promise was echoed by President Obama, who said the U.S. would step up intelligence-sharing and training of Yemeni forces and perhaps carry out joint attacks against militants in the region.
But Yemeni officials on Sunday appeared to shirk any close cooperation with the West. Foreign Minister Abubakr Qirbi told a government-run newspaper that his country welcomed intelligence sharing but had made no commitment to conducting anti-terrorism operations in conjunction with the West.
"Yemen has its own short-term and long-term schemes to tackle terrorists anywhere in the republic that only call for intelligence and information coordination with other countries," he told the daily newspaper Politics.
A statement posted to the U.S. Embassy website in Sana, the Yemeni capital, cited "ongoing threats by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack American interests in Yemen." The British Foreign Office confirmed that its embassy had been closed for security reasons and said discussions would be held today on when to reopen the facility.