U.S. warned in 2009 Yemen’s Saleh could face trouble: report

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Less than two years ago a Yemeni opposition party leader told a U.S. embassy official in Sanaa about a secret plan to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, The Washington Post reported on Friday.

Several previously undisclosed U.S. diplomatic cables provided by the website WikiLeaks revealed that U.S. officials were aware of Yemen’s political state but largely discounted the prospect that Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, could be forced out, it said.

According to one cable, Hamid al-Ahmar, in a meeting with a U.S. embassy official, laid out plans to trigger a revolt if Saleh did not guarantee fair parliamentary elections in 2011.

Al-Ahmar, a wealthy Yemeni sheik, vowed to organize massive demonstrations modeled on protests that toppled Indonesia’s President Suharto a decade earlier, the report said.

The diplomatic cable said the embassy concluded that the sheik’s challenge posed nothing more than “a mild irritation” for Saleh, the newspaper reported.

Saleh, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, is clinging to power after weeks of mass demonstrations demanding an end to his 32-year rule.

More than 100 people have been killed since anti-government demonstrations began. U.S. officials have condemned the violence.

The cables show that influential Yemenis and U.S. allies repeatedly warned U.S. diplomats of Saleh’s growing weakness in 2009 and 2010, The Washington Post reported.

The U.S. embassy in Yemen made careful note of the swell of anti-Saleh anger in cables to Washington, “but also dismissed many of the complaints as sour grapes,” the article said.

A May 30, 2009, cable signed by then U.S. Ambassador Stephen Seche read: “It is unsurprising in a state dominated by a strong leader that those unhappy with their situation blame that individual.”

The State Department declined to comment on the authenticity of the cables or their contents, the Post reported.

“Yemen is one of those places where we don’t have a lot of good policy options,” the paper quoted an unnamed Obama administration official as saying. “We’ve had this emphasis on trying to bring about reform.”

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

U.S. warned in 2009 Yemen’s Saleh could face trouble: report