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Obama, Yemen leader to meet on Gitmo after drone strike

Published: Updated:

President Barack Obama was to welcome his Yemeni counterpart to the White House Thursday against a backdrop of drone strikes and the unresolved fate of Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo.

The meeting with President Abdrabuh Mansur Hadi comes hours after a deadly U.S. drone strike in Yemen, where Washington has been deeply involved in a campaign against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

The White House has been vague about whether any announcements would be made following the Oval Office bilateral, scheduled to begin at 1945 GMT and expected to conclude with remarks to reporters.

Obama looks forward to discussing “U.S. efforts to enhance democratic governance and support economic development in Yemen, further strengthen our counter-terrorism partnership, and enable the return of Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay who have been designated for transfer,” it said.

The visit, Hadi's second to the White House in less than a year, comes after Obama announced a decision to lift a moratorium on the release of Yemenis held in the Cuba-based prison set up in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Obama imposed the moratorium after a foiled attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound passenger plane on Christmas Day 2009 was traced back to AQAP in Yemen.

But on May 23, he announced he would lift it, saying the dossiers of the 56 Yemenis who have previously been cleared for transfer would be examined on a case-by-case basis.

Hadi assumed power in February 2012 after an 11-month-long Arab Spring-inspired revolt toppled longtime autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh, another close US ally who had ruled the country for 33 years.

Hadi previously visited the White House on September 28 and met with Vice President Joe Biden.

He had spoken with Obama briefly several days earlier on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Yemen's government, despite having only tenuous control over vast swathes of the country, has long been a close ally of the United States in its war against Al-Qaeda.

Washington regards AQAP, a merger of militants in Yemen and neighboring Saudi Arabia, as the worldwide jihadist network's most active and dangerous branch.

The latest U.S. drone strike - the third in five days -- came in the southeastern province of Hadramawt, where AQAP militants have carried out a string of attacks on army personnel, a Yemeni security official told AFP.

The unmanned aircraft “raided an Al-Qaeda vehicle in the Wadi Ser area destroying it and killing four militants,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.