The United States said on Thursday it saw “encouraging signs” in Yemen and hoped that President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s government would sign a political transition deal with the opposition within one week.
“The United States has seen encouraging signs in recent days from the government and the opposition in Yemen suggesting a renewed willingness to implement a political transition,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in a statement.
Nuland noted Saleh's Sept. 12 decision to authorize his vice president to sign a power transition plan brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and said the two sides had now set the framework for a lasting deal.
This would include formation of a government of national unity, agreement to hold new presidential elections by the end of 2011 and creation of a committee to oversee security and military affairs until the election can be held.
“The United States believes that these remaining tasks can and should be accomplished quickly and it hopes that an agreement is reached and the signing of the GCC Initiative takes place within one week,” Nuland said.
The United States and oil giant Saudi Arabia, both targets of foiled attacks by al-Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, have pushed for the GCC deal for months, wary that growing turmoil is giving more room for Islamist militants to operate.
Saleh, 69, has been recuperating in neighboring Saudi Arabia since he was severely wounded in a bomb attack in June amid rising unrest over his 33-year rule.
He had backed out of signing the transition deal three times before the assassination attempt inside his presidential compound, and the main opposition coalition has expressed skepticism over the latest announcement.
Months of fruitless negotiating had frustrated tens of thousands of anti-Saleh protesters as daily demonstrations and sporadic clashes paralyzed the impoverished Arab state.
Explosions and gunfire shook a northern district of the Yemeni capital Sana’a early on Thursday, in what appeared to be renewed clashes between tribesmen opposed to Saleh and troops loyal to him, residents said, while two explosions hit the intelligence headquarters and a police base in the southern city of Aden.
The blasts took place days after Yemen's army announced it had recaptured Zinjibar, the capital of the neighboring province of Abyan, where militants linked to al Qaeda have mounted a rising challenge to government control.
Saleh’s formal departure may still be months away even if the transition agreement goes through. Ultimately, the plan calls for a newly-elected president, expected to be current Vice President Abbd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to head a two-year interim unity government that would draft a new constitution and negotiate with Shi’ite Muslim rebels in the north and armed separatists in the south.
Nuland said the United States would continue to support a peaceful and orderly transition in Yemen and was concerned about reports of continued violence, calling on Yemen's government to protect peaceful protesters, refrain from violence, and bring those responsible for violence to justice.