Clinton Travels To Yemen To Mend Relations

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the Middle East country of Yemen poses a global threat. She arrived in Yemen for an official visit Tuesday. Yemen, on the Arabian peninsula, has seen a surge in al-Qaida activity and internal unrest.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Yemen has been much talked about in recent months as a base of terrorist operations. And in remarks just last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that this Middle Eastern country poses a global threat. Today, she arrived in Yemen for an official visit.

Yemen, which is on the Arabian Peninsula, has seen a surge in al-Qaida activity and internal unrest. Al-Qaida's arm in Yemen has been linked to last year's Time Square bombing attempt and the foiled cargo package bomb last fall. The U.S. is trying to help Yemen's government fight extremists.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with Secretary Clinton, and she joins us now from the capital, Sanaa.

Good morning, Michele.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: What is Secretary Clinton doing there?

KELEMEN: Well, she's actually the first secretary of state in about 20 years to come to Yemen. She says that military-to-military cooperation is not enough, and she wants to broaden relations. So in addition to talking about counterterrorism, she's reaching out to civil society here. She's talking about the need for political reforms. And, for example, one thing she's paying particular attention to is child marriage. She's paying tribute today to a girl who escaped an abusive child marriage when she was just 10 years old. So we're going to hear a lot about civil society development in this, which is the Arab world's poorest country.

MONTAGNE: But as you just mentioned, counterterrorism is an issue there, and that, what, is surely the focus of her comments.

KELEMEN: Yeah. I mean, she, clearly, by being here, wants to show Americans that the Obama administration is focused on this issue. She's also telling Yemenis that it's in their interests - not just American interest - to make sure al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is not given safe haven. It's a key part of her talks with President Saleh here.

You know, the other problem is, though, that while the U.S. wants him to be fighting al-Qaida, he's also facing a rebellion in the north of the country, a secessionist moment in the south. So the Obama administration has been careful to make sure that its aid in counterterrorism isn't used to fuel any of those conflicts. So it's a very fine line she has to walk here.

MONTAGNE: And Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the world. Does her visit, though, also include new U.S. aid commitments?

KELEMEN: She isn't announcing any new aid, but she is talking about how the U.S. is rebalancing its aid. In 2010, it - the aid commitment was about $300 million. Nearly half of that now is for non-military assistance. This is a country that Secretary Clinton points out is running out of oil. It's running out of water. So development issues are crucial for it, and the U.S. wants to support that. What it gives, however, is far less than what you see it giving in places like Pakistan.

MONTAGNE: Given Yemen's reputation as having these terrorist operations going there, I imagine security is tight for the secretary.

KELEMEN: Yes. I mean, we couldn't report on it until we arrived here today. Security is very tight. The embassy has been - has come under attack before, so it's been very careful movements around the city as we come here.

MONTAGNE: Michele, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen, traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to us from the capital of Yemen.

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