Diplomats To Help Yemen Fight Terrorism

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and top world officials are trying to figure out how to help a shaky government in Yemen that they suspect isn't fully committed to the battle against al-Qaida. They are gathering in London Wednesday for an international conference to hash out a plan.

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ARI SHAPIRO, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Ari Shapiro.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And Im Steve Inskeep. Good morning. Diplomats from more than 20 countries have gathered in London this week. Theyre holding two major conferences on two troubled nations. On Thursday, the focus will be on Afghanistan, but today, theyre talking about Yemen. Representatives come from Europe, the Middle East, the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is there. NPRs Rob Gifford is there, as well.

Hi, Rob.

ROB GIFFORD: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So why Yemen?

GIFFORD: Well, Yemen has, of course, been of concern to the United States, especially for some years now. If you think back to the year 2000, the USS Cole was bombed in a Yemeni port. But obviously, the focus has really come onto it since Christmas Day, since the attempted attack on the airliner headed for Detroit, and, of course, because Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has told U.S. investigators that he was trained in Yemen. And the big concern is that there are more people like him there who are being trained by al-Qaida who could be heading for Western targets.

So this conference is really to deal - address two things: security and development. Trying to deal with al-Qaida there, but also trying to aim to deal with economic and social and developmental issues which are fueling and feeding into the development of al-Qaida in this very, very poor Middle Eastern nation.

INSKEEP: Does that mean these diplomats will be trying, essentially, to raise more money to send to Yemen?

GIFFORD: Well, no. Theyve said thats not the case. In fact, there was a conference in 2006 where a lot of money was pledged. And a lot of that money that was pledged, billions of dollars, has not actually been dispersed. So part of what theyre doing today is trying to help the Yemeni government to deal with the funds that its already been offered.

And theres very much a feeling, I think, among officials here, among U.S. officials who are arriving for this conference, that throwing money at the problem is not the issue. Its very much - its much more about getting the Yemeni government onboard.

The Yemeni prime minister, two deputy prime ministers and the foreign minister are all here. And I think this is about engaging with the Yemeni government and trying to help them and talk with them to deal with this problem themselves, but not just to throw money at it, which could actually cause more problems.

INSKEEP: Oh, because youve got a government here that even if money is offered, they don't seem to be organized enough to spend it in ways that are acceptable to the West. Is that what you're saying?

GIFFORD: Absolutely. They have clearly shown that. And Yemen has huge problems. It - there are very few functioning services outside the capital, just running water and electricity. They have a very high unemployment rate. They have all sorts of problems with poverty and secessionist movements.

And they just have not been able to deal with it, even though theyve been offered the money. So this is all about coordinating that, but obviously, with the underlying issue of security concerns about al-Qaida there possibly training more bombers to come our way.

INSKEEP: Rob Gifford in London, are you hearing diplomats there describe Yemen, essentially, as - I don't want to say precisely the next Afghanistan, but the next failed state, in any case?

GIFFORD: That, of course, is the underlying fear. Many of these issues that were talking about, of course, about these remote tribal areas, lawless areas, tribes with some affinity towards militant Islamist movements, that Yemen really could become the next Afghanistan.

And, of course, tomorrow everyone is talking about Afghanistan. So its extremely topical. And what theyre trying to do is get ahead of the curve here to engage with the Yemeni government so that it does not become the next Afghanistan.

INSKEEP: NPRs Rob Gifford is in London.

Rob, thanks very much.

GIFFORD: Thank you, Steve.

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