One option, U.S. and Arab officials said, would be to bring Yemen before the U.N. Security Council for unspecified sanctions. On Monday, the European Union called on Saleh to “transfer power now” and warned that member states “will review their policies toward Yemen.”
But even as they considered new steps to resolve the escalating crisis in Yemen, which is in its third month, officials acknowledged that any course of action they might pursue poses risks in this strategically located country that is on the brink of economic collapse and is home to the world’s most powerful and active branch of al-Qaeda.
“The situation is very delicate now,” said the administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss fast-breaking events on the ground. Saleh, he said, “is drawing this out at his own peril.”
In the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, gun battles raged Monday between government forces and fighters loyal to powerful tribal leader Sadiq al-Ahmar, who has sided with the growing opposition movement that has demanded an end to Saleh’s 32-year-long rule, wire services reported.
The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa announced it would close its consular section Tuesday and Wednesday “due to the fluid security situation” and would provide emergency services only for U.S. citizens.
“We’re taking one day at a time, but we’re not at this point relying on a change of heart on the part of Saleh,” the administration official said. “We need to now reevaluate with our partners the next step we can take that will try to resolve this.”
A senior Arab official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “Right now, there is nothing the outside world can do except saying, ‘Sign.’ ”
But while donors may be hesitant about cutting security ties and the economic assistance that keeps Yemen afloat, he said, “you can cut the stuff that goes to him as president — not directly into his pocket, but presidents have expenses. They live in houses, they have cars and salaries to pay.”
The Arab official counseled a bit more patience, but he agreed that time was running out. “It’s going to be impossible for [Yemen] to continue without the risk of this disintegrating. In which case, all bets are off,” he said.
Yemen, an ostensible U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, has been one of the most vexing problems for the Obama administration during a season of widespread popular revolts throughout the Arab world.
Yemen, which received more than $300 million in U.S. security and economic aid last year, allows U.S. Special Operations forces to train its counterterrorism forces and gather intelligence on its soil against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). U.S. fighter jets have launched attacks on AQAP targets in Yemen, and this month marked the first time since 2002 that the U.S. military launched a drone strike there.