U.S., Allies Meet On Yemen Security

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in London on Wednesday for a conference that focuses on Yemen's security problems. The meeting is expected to come up with a plan to provide military and economic aid to the country and help it fight al-Qaida and other Islamist extremists.

MADELEINE BRAND host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Madeleine Brand.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And Im Robert Siegel.

Small, poor and isolated is the country of Yemen - has rarely been the focus of international attention, but these days, Yemen is of great of concern. Today, its the focus of an international conference in London, a conference attended by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Participants are talking about ways to support Yemens fight against radical Islamists and on top of that list is the al-Qaida affiliate in Yemen, which claimed responsibility for the failed airplane bombing on Christmas Day.

NPRs Rob Gifford has the story.

ROB GIFFORD: Hillary Clinton arrived in London this morning prepared for two conferences on two crucial and in some ways similar countries: Yemen and Afghanistan. The fact that al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula claimed that alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was trained in Yemen, has meant a surge of U.S. interest in the country. Secretary Clinton used the meeting focusing on Yemen today to launch a new international grouping called the Friends of Yemen that will include the G8 countries and Yemens neighbors in the Gulf. She said a stable Yemen was in everyones interest.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (Department of State): The situation in Yemen is of particular concern. It does truly affect all of us in a very direct way. So with the leadership of our partners in the Arab world, Friends of Yemen everywhere stand ready to assist the Yemeni government and people.

GIFFORD: This was not a conference to throw more money at Yemen. Today was about finding ways to use money already pledged to fight radicalism and to lay out a list of needed economic and political reforms. Some of the biggest problems in the country are simply to do with poverty, which is pushing some Yemenis into the arms of radical groups. Nearly 50 percent of young people under the age of 25 are unemployed and 50 percent of the population is illiterate. Basic services such as running water and electricity are scarce. But, said Hillary Clinton, at least in the documents that the Yemeni government presented to her, it appeared to be confronting its problems honestly.

Sec. CLINTON: In fact, there was a category of statistics that was labeled Appalling Indicators. Ive gone to a lot of international meetings and I have worked with many, many governments over many years, but that struck me, and I want to commend the foreign minister and the prime minister.

GIFFORD: The Yemeni foreign minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi responded in kind thanking Secretary Clinton and the host, British foreign secretary David Miliband, for their assistance offered to Yemen and saying that his government was committed to the reforms that Clinton, who he referred to as Her Excellency, had just laid out.

Mr. ABU BAKR AL-QIRBI (Foreign Minister, Yemen): This commitment also stems from our belief that challenges we are facing now cannot be remedied unless we implement this agenda of reforms and the 10 points that Her Excellency alluded to.

GIFFORD: The mood of cooperation changed, though, at the end of the news conference with the question for foreign minister al-Qirbi about whether Yemen was responsible for the radicalization of the alleged bomber of Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day.

Mr. AL-QIRBI: We said he spent in London four years and he spent in Yemen one year. Where did the radicalization take place?

GIFFORD: Overall, though, the tone was cooperative, but the new Friends of Yemen will be watching to see whether any of the Yemeni governments spoken commitment to confront radicalism and poverty are put into practice.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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