- By Charles HomansCharles Homans is a special correspondent for the New Republic and the former features editor of Foreign Policy.
It’s been a while since WikiLeaked checked in on Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s newly embattled president and a reliably interesting character in the WikiLeaks oeuvre. Most of what we’ve seen from Saleh in the leaked U.S. State Department cables has followed a pattern in which U.S. diplomats try to coax more counterterrorism cooperation out of the veteran strongman, while Saleh — whose government received $155 million in military aid from the United States in 2010, twice the previous year’s amount — tries to finagle more cash and materiel out of the Americans. A newly released December 2004 State Department cable recounting a meeting between Saleh and U.S. Ambassador Thomas C. Krajeski (pictured above with Saleh in a 2007 photo) is no exception.
The meeting takes place a little more than a month after U.S. President George W. Bush’s reelection; Saleh badly wants to meet with Bush in Washington to congratulate him personally, he tells Krajeski, and also talk about “important new developments in the region ‘that can only be discussed face to face,'” according to the cable. Krajeski hems and haws a bit about this, at which point, the cable notes, “True to form, Saleh launched into a list of what he believes the U.S. owes him. ‘Where is the money for the Army, and what about my spare (F-5) parts?’ Saleh demanded.” (The cable notes, a little acidly, that there have been reported problems with getting the Yemeni Ministry of Defense “to follow through with the necessary paperwork on parts and equipment in order to spend the 17 million USD in Yemen’s [foreign military financing] account.”)
Pointing out that any meetings with senior U.S. officials would quickly turn to the subject of Yemen’s huge grey market in SA/LW [small arms/light weapons], Ambassador told Saleh that Yemen needs to gain control over the huge flow of these weapons in and through the country. Washington is very concerned about this issue and ready to help the ROYG tackle it, added Ambassador. “I will do it!” Saleh exclaimed, insisting that he was insisting that he was already “cracking down” on the SA/LWs market.
The conversation soon turns, inevitably, to counterterrorism, in which Saleh has been a longstanding if not unproblematic partner to the United States. Pressed on the subject of Hadi Dulqum, an arms dealer with alleged links to Al Qaeda, the cable reports that “Saleh stuck to his line that Hadi Dulqum is just a ‘simple arms dealer:'”
The Saudis want Dulqum, said the President, “they are crazy for him. What do you expect?” he asked, “if we arrest every arms dealer in the country, we will have hundreds of them in prison.” The USG [U.S. government] agrees with the Saudis, said Ambassador, adding that Dulqum’s connections with AQ are too extensive for him to be simply another Yemeni arms dealer.
Months later, Saleh does manage to swing a White House invite, prompting a June 2005 cable from the Sanaa embassy titled PRIORITIES FOR WASHINGTON VISIT: SALEH NEEDS TO BE PART OF THE SOLUTION. The cable characterizes relations with Saleh’s government as “frustrating and difficult,” noting that “Saleh has indicated to top advisors in the past that he believes he can pull the wool over the eyes of the [U.S. government.]” On the political front, “Saleh touts Yemen as a leader in regional reform and has committed to democratization,” the cable says. “Domestically, however, he has run-out of reforms he can implement at no political cost to himself.”
The cable proposes “a public show of support via a greater role in public fora such as the G-8” as a possible inducement to greater democratization, but it seems that half a decade later, the upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt may have done the job more effectively.