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U.S. Embassy Temporarily Closed In Yemen
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U.S. Embassy Temporarily Closed In Yemen

National Security

U.S. Embassy Temporarily Closed In Yemen

U.S. Embassy Temporarily Closed In Yemen
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President Obama arrives back in Washington Monday after 11 days in Hawaii on what became very much a working vacation. His holiday was interrupted by the attempted bombing of a plane heading to Detroit on Christmas Day. Since then, Obama has addressed the nation several times. On Sunday, the administration announced it was closing the U.S. Embassy in Yemen temporarily due to threats from al-Qaida.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep. Renee Montagne is on vacation this week. Sitting in this week in our studios is Madeleine Brand, late of NPR's DAY TO DAY. Madeleine, welcome back.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Hey, it's nice to be back.

And President Obama also arrives back in Washington today after 11 days in Hawaii, on what became a working vacation. The president delayed his departure for the Senate's vote on health insurance legislation, and then he had his holiday interrupted by the attempted bombing of a plane landing in Detroit on Christmas Day. Since then, the president has addressed the nation several times, including these comments over the weekend about the alleged attacker.

President BARACK OBAMA: It appears that he joined an affiliate of al-Qaida, and that this group, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, trained him, equipped him with those explosives, and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

BRAND: Yesterday, the administration announced it was temporarily closing the U.S. Embassy in Yemen due to al-Qaida threats. Great Britain is doing the same.

And joining us now to discuss the latest events is NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea. Hi, Don.

DON GONYEA: Good morning.

BRAND: And, let's talk a minute first about those embassy closings. What does that actually mean? And it was temporary, but how long do you think it'll last?

GONYEA: Well, first, we just don't know how long it'll last at this point. Certainly, it was a move driven by caution. It is rooted in concern, worry about threats that are being picked up by intelligence sources. Again, these are not necessarily threats specific to the embassy or against the embassy but against U.S. targets, more generally, in Yemen. But it's also a symbolic step. It sends a signal that the threat is out there, that the administration takes it as very serious. The president, this week, described Yemen as an unstable nation with an active and expanding extremist population. The U.S. has been picking up intel on the group al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, that's based there. So, the embassy closing is just one of the more visible steps the U.S. is taking to address it.

BRAND: And the news has been dominated for 10 days by this bombing attempt, in part because this would-be bomber's trail leads back to Yemen. It's a small country on the Arabian Peninsula. It's suddenly emerging as a major front in the war on al-Qaida.

GONYEA: Right. But the president's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, was on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, and he said it is not a new front in the war. But he did say the U.S. is coordinating with the government in Yemen to deal with extremists there, and that it is an ongoing effort that was under way well before the Christmas bomb attempt was linked backed to extremists in Yemen. This is Brennan speaking about Yemen yesterday, on NBC's "Meet The Press."

Mr. JOHN BRENNAN (Counterterrorism Adviser to President Obama): I think the American people should expect that its government is going to do everything, in fact, to hold those individuals accountable whether they're in Yemen, whether they're in other places. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula poses a serious threat. They have attacked our embassy before. They've carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia against Saudi targets. And now, it's very clear that they're trying to bring these attacks to the homeland. We're not going to let them do that.

GONYEA: And recall, too, that Yemen has been in the mix, going back to the bombing of the USS Cole. That was back in the fall of 2000, a full year before 9/11. Still, you have to say that it does, in many senses - in a sense, at least, represent a new front for a lot of Americans, who may be just, you know, going back to the map and relocating Yemen for the first time since the USS Cole.

BRAND: Mm-hmm. And, let's talk about the political fallout about this. John Brennan, we haven't heard a lot from him, and many Americans may not know -even know who he is. Is he the new face, though, for the administration on this, someone besides Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano?

GONYEA: Well, Brennan is the president's in-house counterterrorism adviser. He works out of the West Wing. We will be seeing more of him. Napolitano is the Department of Homeland Security secretary. She, recall, was criticized for initially saying the system worked, just two days after that attempt on Flight 253. She later clarified it to say she was talking about what happened once the incident took place. But again, she's been taking a lot of heat for it. But everyone in the administration is expressing confidence in Napolitano, including the president, including John Brennan. But with him coming out on the Sunday talk shows yesterday, there was clearly a sense that he was there to really, send a tough message.

BRAND: OK. NPR White House correspondent Don Gonyea, thank you very much.

GONYEA: Thank you.

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