National Public Radio NPR has made an interview with U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein who talk about many of important issues related to the Yemeni current situation and the mutual cooperation between Yemen and the United States. The interview is below:
The growing threat of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has forced the U.S. into an uneasy alliance with Yemen's government. This year, the U.S. is spending $300 million on Yemen — split between development aid and military assistance. U.S. Ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein talks to Renee Montagne about why al-Qaida has gained a foothold in that country.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Let's turn now to Yemen, home to a particularly active branch of al-Qaida. The alleged Christmas Day bomber who planned to bring down an airliner in 2009 is believed to have trained there. And last fall a plot to mail packages containing bombs to the U.S. was traced to Yemen.
The growing threat of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has forced the U.S. into an uneasy alliance with Yemen's government and with the man who's kept a tight grip on power for more than three decades - President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
This year, the U.S. is spending $300 million on Yemen, split between military assistance and development aid. To talk about the U.S. interests in Yemen, we spoke to the U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein.
Welcome to the program.
Mr. GERALD FEIERSTEIN (U.S. Ambassador): Thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here.
MONTAGNE: Let's begin with some basics. What is driving al-Qaida and has allowed it to get a foothold in Yemen?
Mr. FEIERSTEIN: Well, I think that there are a number of factors that are operating here. One, of course, is that many of the senior operatives and the roots of the organization itself really rest in the Arabian Peninsula. Many of the senior people are either Saudi or Yemeni. There is a significant population of Yemenis who are associated with al-Qaida in Afghanistan who are now in Guantanamo. There is a population that is tribal oriented that has that has many of the characteristics of the tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And as the pressure on al-Qaida in Pakistan and Afghanistan increased, many of those individuals moved and it was natural for them to go to Yemen.
MONTAGNE: Well, one thing we know from Pakistan is that the use of drones by the U.S. has alienated the population. And we know from WikiLeaks that in Yemen diplomatic cables suggest that the president thought it was a good idea to claim droned strikes as his own - not to let the population know that these were in fact done by the U.S. What going forward is the feeling about those strikes?
Ambassador FEIERSTEIN: Well, of course, generally speaking, we don't really get into discussions about the WikiLeaks things. But I would say that on both the government of Yemen side as well as the U.S. government side, I think that theres complete agreement that active U.S. engagement boots on the ground, if you will, is not the direction that we want to go in in Yemen.
You know, we provide them with different kinds of assistance, with training and equipping, their forces, but at the end of the day, I think that we want to limit our engagement to that kind of a role and not take a much more active profile in Yemen.
MONTAGNE: Critics believe though, the current president Saleh, has an interest in maintaining a level of threat so that he can prosper off American aid and intervention. I mean, it allows him to justify his rule and also keep opponents at bay.
Ambassador FEIERSTEIN: Right. There is this theory that...
MONTAGNE: And its held by his own people.
Ambassador FEIERSTEIN: And many of his own people hold that theory.
MONTAGNE: I mean they would go so far as to say some, you know, al-Qaida doesn't even exist.
Ambassador FEIERSTEIN: Right. People do question the seriousness of the threat to Yemen from violent extremist organizations. But I would say that from our own information, which is not necessarily derived entirely from the government of Yemen, were pretty confident that al-Qaida and the Arabian Peninsula is a serious threat, and I think that we're confident President Selah is a good partner for the United States in these issues.
MONTAGNE: How is this administration trying to strike a balance between supporting a country where stability is very important and having an ally is important against the problem of having as a friend and ally a government that is viewed by a large swath of its own people as repressive?
Ambassador FEIERSTEIN: Well, I think it's a process. And we certainly would not argue that the institutions of governance in Yemen have achieved any degree of perfection. The government of Yemen certainly has a long way to go in terms of addressing some of these issues.
But at the same time, we also have to recognize that we have an immediate challenge. There is a direct threat to U.S. national security that comes out of the ability of al-Qaida and the Arabian Peninsula and other violent extremist groups to operate in Yemen. And we need both for our own security interests as well as the security interests of the Yemeni people themselves and of the region and of the world to address those.
MONTAGNE: Gerald Feierstein is the U.S. ambassador to Yemen.
Ambassador, thank you.
Ambassador FEIERSTEIN: It was a pleasure to be here. Thank you so much