NEW YORK // Amid mounting fears of Yemen becoming a launching pad for al Qa'eda strikes across the Gulf, the impoverished country's ambassador to the UN has said its oil-rich neighbours should open the doors of their six-nation alliance. Abdullah al Saidi, Yemen's top diplomat in New York, said the security threat posed by militants within his country and across the peninsula could be best addressed by granting full membership to the Gulf Cooperation Council.
"We argue that the security of Yemen is central to the security of the Gulf; this is not theoretical. They must understand that a poor Yemen with instability because of poverty and lack of development is really linked to their security," he said. "It is a moral imperative for the Gulf to help Yemen and to rehabilitate it to the degree that it becomes a full member of the Gulf Cooperation Council. That is an investment in the security, stability and prosperity of the Arabian Peninsula, not only a favour to Yemen."
Yemeni forces are fighting an offshoot of the al Qa'eda terrorism network, which claimed responsibility for the thwarted Christmas Day attempt to bomb a US passenger jet bound for Detroit. The government is also battling economic woes and two rebellions that have left a power vacuum across swathes of the mountainous country. Mr al Saidi, formerly a vice minister for foreign affairs, said bolstering Yemen's beleaguered government should top the agenda during an upcoming GCC meeting in Aden and at a high-level conference on Yemen's security and development in London on January 27.
Yemen's unemployment rate, estimated to be above of 35 per cent, is proving a fertile recruiting ground for al Qa'eda in the Arabian Peninsula - and financial support from such heavyweight GCC members as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE is vital, he added. Yemen has lobbied hard for GCC membership since 1995, but has faced resistance from the tight-knit group, which boasts about 45 per cent of proven global crude reserves and sees the peninsula's poorest nation as badly governed.
The attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was just the latest episode demonstrating the growing reach of Yemen-based al Qa'eda operatives. A failed attempt on the life of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the Saudi counterterrorism chief, in August was followed in October by the interception of three al Qa'eda extremists, who had entered from Yemen, by Saudi security forces, in the Saudi province of Jizan. All of the militants - two of whom were wearing explosive vests - were killed in the ensuing gunbattle.
Christopher Boucek, an analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, warned that Yemen faces a "unique convergence of crises", including dwindling oil reserves, water shortages, African refugees, a secessionist movement in the south and an uprising of minority Zaidi Shiites in the north. A country that has "teetered on the brink of collapse" since the unification of north and south Yemen is rapidly becoming a failed state that has "never faced so many interconnected challenges at one time", he said.
Despite a US pledge to double the US$70 million (Dh257m) provided in counterterrorism aid, experts say Gulf countries also have a crucial role to play in bailing out Yemen and using local knowledge to broker truces between the government and rebel groups. "I hope Gulf countries play a very significant leadership role at the conference this month," said Marisa Porges, a counterterrorism expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "Yemen is the poorest country in their neighbourhood, and if the government fails the refugees are going to flow across their borders."
Referring to previous Yemen donor conferences, Ms Porges warned that GCC members have left aid pledges unfulfilled, often amid fears that Yemeni officials will spend donations on fighting enemies rather than developing the economy. But Mr al Saidi defended his government's managerial skills, saying recent strikes on al Qa'eda targets had proven successful and averted a security threat that had forced the closing of some embassies in Sana'a.
"Yemen is always portrayed as needing help and not capable," he said. "Then they eventually discovered that Yemen did an adequate and effective job at protecting the embassies. To argue that the Yemeni government is not firmly in control of its territory is only an excuse not to help." The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he will attend this month's meeting, organised by the British prime minster, Gordon Brown, saying the event should address the "fight against international terrorism" as well as "broader aspects of the situation in Yemen".
"For the United Nations, we are also very concerned about this deteriorating humanitarian situation," Mr Ban said in an interview. "There are at least 150,000 displaced persons who need immediate humanitarian support. On all these matters, we will have a comprehensive review, on how the international community [will] address these issues." firstname.lastname@example.org