US senators talk terrorism, Gitmo issues in Yemen

State news agency says two sides focus on "bilateral issues and fields of joint cooperation."

McCain Yemen 248.88 (photo credit: )
McCain Yemen 248.88
(photo credit: )
A delegation of US senators led by John McCain and the president of Yemen discussed on Monday ways to help the impoverished Arabian Peninsula country battle the threat from al-Qaida. The state SABA news agency said the American team and Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh focused on "bilateral issues and fields of joint cooperation." No details immediately emerged from the meeting, but McCain spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan confirmed earlier that the talks would include counterterrorism cooperation and Guantanamo detainees. Yemen has been a professed US ally in the fight against terrorism but President Barack Obama has hesitated to send home the nearly 100 Yemeni inmates held at Guantanamo Bay prison because of Yemen's history of either releasing extremists or allowing them to escape from prison. The country, which is the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, has been the site of numerous high-profile, al-Qaida-linked attacks, including the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in the Gulf of Aden, which killed 17 American sailors. The US visit comes at a particularly difficult time for Yemen. In addition to the al-Qaida threat, Saleh's Sunni-led government is facing a vigorous southern secessionist movement and an escalating tribal Shiite rebellion in a northern province along the border with Saudi Arabia. That has raised concern over the government's abilities to control all of its territory and prevent al-Qaida from using Yemen as a safe haven to organize terrorist operations on the peninsula. Along with rampant lawlessness, Yemen is also struggling with a worsening economy. The American delegation has been on a Mideast trip since last week and has already made stops in Libya and Iraq. It also includes Senators Joseph Lieberman, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham.