WASHINGTON — The United States said Wednesday it would hold Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh accountable for transitioning power after February elections, after he canceled a planned trip to America.
Saleh provoked a stir late last month when he first mooted a US trip and the United States said it would only admit him for treatment for injuries sustained in an attack on his palace in June.
But a senior Yemeni official said on Wednesday that Saleh had now decided to stay in the country until after the presidential elections.
"We are hearing similar reports and are currently discussing this matter with the Yemeni government," said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.
"However, I would note that as part of the agreement to resolve the political crisis in Yemen, Saleh transferred executive powers to Vice President (Abdrabuh Mansur) Hadi, who is now overseeing the transition process in Yemen.
"Saleh signed this accord in front of the world. The United States and the international community are committed to holding him accountable to the agreement."
Vietor said Hadi and the national consensus government had made important progress on the political transition and said Washington was confident it would proceed.
He also noted that Saleh's request to visit the United States remained under consideration and had not been rejected.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland underlined the point.
"To date, we still have a visa application from President Saleh at our embassy in Sanaa. It hasn't been withdrawn. We also have not made a decision one way or another with regard to that visa," Nuland told reporters.
Some observers backed a US trip by Saleh, believing it would have got him out of Yemen and allowed the transition to elections to move ahead more smoothly and might have dulled political violence.
But such a trip would have opened the United States to charges of harboring a brutal ruler responsible for the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators, and seem to present a direct contradiction of its push for human rights.
The United States is deeply concerned about political instability in Yemen and the presence there of Al-Qaeda cells and affiliates which have been blamed for several direct attempted attacks on the American homeland.
Its cooperation with the Saleh government on anti-terror policy has led it into a difficult political spot given a government crackdown on anti-government protests.
A Gulf Cooperation Council initiative, signed by Saleh in November after more than 10 months of mass anti-government protests, forced Saleh to hand power to Hadi.
The plan also gave Saleh and his closest aides and relatives immunity from prosecution for alleged crimes committed against Yemenis in months of unrest that left hundreds of people dead and thousands more wounded.
It also allowed Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for more than 33 years, to retain the title of honorary president until he formally resigns after the elections.