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Viewing cable 09SANAA495, SALEH SHOWS NO FLEXIBILITY ON GTMO DETAINEES

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09SANAA495 2009-03-23 07:07 2010-12-03 21:09 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Sanaa
VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHYN #0495/01 0820700
ZNY SSSSS ZZH
R 230700Z MAR 09
FM AMEMBASSY SANAA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1456
INFO RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD 0078
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 1614
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHMCSUU/FBI WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T SANAA 000495

NOFORN
SIPDIS

NSC FOR APDNSA JOHN BRENNAN AND JOHN DUNCAN
DEPT FOR S/WCI AMBASSADOR CLINT WILLIAMSON
AND SHAUN COUGHLIN, NEA/ARP ANDREW MACDONALD

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/23/2019
TAGS: KDRG PGOV PINR PTER PINS IZ SA YM
SUBJECT: SALEH SHOWS NO FLEXIBILITY ON GTMO DETAINEES

Classified By: CDA Angie Bryan for reasons 1.4(b), (c), and (d)

SUMMARY
-------

1. (S/NF) President Saleh on March 16 rejected a proposal by
visiting Assistant to the President and Deputy National
Security Advisor (APDNSA) John Brennan that Yemeni Guantanamo
detainees be sent to a Saudi rehabilitation center jointly
run by Saudi Arabia and Yemen.  Saleh instead insisted that
the Yemeni detainees be returned to Yemen as soon as a
proposed rehabilitation center in Aden, funded by the U.S.
and Saudi Arabia, is ready to accept them.  End Summary.

SALEH INTRANSIGENT ON DETAINEES
-------------------------------

2. (S/NF) President Saleh on March 16 repeatedly rebuffed
suggestions by visiting APDNSA John Brennan that Yemeni
Guantanamo detainees be sent to Saudi Arabia, insisting on a
Saudi-style rehabilitation center inside Yemen, funded by the
U.S. and Saudi Arabia.  Brennan, accompanied by the
Ambassador, NSC Director John Duncan, S/WCI Ambassador Clint
Williamson, and Pol/Mil Chief, told Saleh that the U.S.
wanted detainees to return to Yemen eventually.  In the
absence of a Yemeni program, however, the best near-term
solution was for Saudi Arabia and Yemen to jointly run a
program, at a Saudi-built rehabilitation facility at Abha in
KSA with an immediate capability of receiving up to 120
detainees and open to Arabs from across the region.  Saleh
refused to address this suggestion directly, saying Yemen
would build its own rehabilitation center in Aden.  "We will
offer the land in Aden, and you and the Saudis will provide
the funding."  It will be ready 90 days after receipt of the
USD 11 million required for construction, Saleh said.

3. (S/NF) Growing increasingly impatient, Saleh said that the
U.S. could duplicate the Saudi program in Yemen.  Brennan
responded that such a program takes time to develop and that
Saleh had his hands full dealing with al-Qaeda in Yemen.
Saleh said that while he personally had no problem with
detainees being sent to KSA, Yemeni opposition parties are
the real obstacle because they will not allow him to give KSA
control over Yemeni citizens.  Brennan told Saleh that a
leader of his depth of experience could surely figure out a
way to deal with the opposition,s concerns.  Saleh asked why
the U.S. didn,t simply keep the detainees at Guantanamo or
send them to the "Moayad prison" while Yemen builds its own
facility.  (Note: Saleh was referring to the federal prison
in Colorado where convicted Yemeni terrorist financier
Mohammed al-Moayad is currently being held.  End Note.)
Signaling his bottom line, Saleh told Brennan that Yemen
already had plans for a rehabilitation center and repeated
his demand that the U.S. and KSA fund it.  At this point,
Brennan asked to speak with Saleh and the Ambassador
privately.

4. (S/NF) In the pull-aside with Brennan and the Ambassador,
Saleh said that he wouldn,t object if the U.S. and Saudi
Arabia entered into a bilateral agreement regarding
disposition of the Guantanamo detainees.  (Comment: Saleh
said this knowing full well that the Saudis are unwilling at
this point to take in the Yemeni detainees without his
concurrence.  End Comment.)  In a brief meeting outside
Saleh's gazebo, Ambassador Williamson described to Saleh's
nephew, Deputy Director of the National Security Bureau (NSB)
Ammar Saleh, the USG's review process for evaluating possible
destinations for detainees and praised the Saudi program.
Ambassador Williamson said that Saudi Arabia was closer to
Yemen than Guantanamo and that if the Saudi solution didn't
work, then the Yemenis would be transfered to other
countries, but not to Yemen.  Ammar proposed sending the
Yemenis to the ROYG facility for a brief (e.g. 3 month)
period at which time Saleh could announce that they had asked
to be transferred to KSA, and it would be done.  He cautioned
that he had not yet proposed the idea to Saleh and that any
such transfers would have to be approved by both the family
and the tribes involved.  Ambassador Williamson thanked Ammar
Saleh for his suggestion and said he would take it up with
Mr. Brennan, but noted that he did not think it was a viable
alternative given the caveats imposed.

RETURN OF THE BAATH IN IRAQ??
-----------------------------

5. (S/NF) In a bizarre postscript to the morning meeting with
Saleh, the Palace protocol office called an hour later to
request that Brennan meet with Ammar Saleh.  Expecting a
continuation of the Guantanamo detainee discussion, the
Brennan delegation and the Ambassador met with Saleh, who
said that he had been instructed by the President to share
"very important" intelligence information with Brennan.
Ammar said the NSB had what it considered reliable
information that the Iraqi Baath party was reconstituting
itself and would reclaim power in Baghdad once the U.S.
pulled out.  Upon hearing this, Brennan ended the meeting,
telling Ammar that he had come expecting to discuss detainee
issues, and that he would report to President Obama his
disappointment that the ROYG was being inflexible in dealing
with the issue.  In a final twist, the protocol office called
to say that Ammar Saleh would meet Mr. Brennan at the airport
as he departed Yemen (raising again the possibility that
there could be further discussion of the detainee issue) only
to call back to say Ammar Saleh had been called away to
another meeting.

ROYG SPIN AND EMBASSY PRESS STATEMENT
-------------------------------------

6. (C) Official news agency Saba released a statement after
the meeting saying that Saleh had called on the U.S. to
"extradite" Yemeni citizens at Guantanamo to Yemen so they
could be rehabilitated and integrated into society.  The Saba
statement also noted that Brennan had delivered a letter from
President Obama praising Yemen's efforts in counterterrorism
and that Saleh had given Brennan a response letter for
President Obama.  (Note: Brennan did deliver a letter from
President Obama, but the letter focused on the danger of
transfering detainees directly to Yemen.  Contrary to the
Saba statement, Saleh did not give Brennan a letter for
President Obama.  End Note.)

7. (U) The Embassy issued the following press release,
cleared by Brennan, the afternoon of March 16.

Begin Embassy press release text:

John Brennan, Assistant to the President and Deputy National
Security Advisor, visited Yemen on March 16, 2009 as part of
a visit to the region to discuss continued cooperation
between the United States and Yemen in combating terrorism.
As part of the ongoing dialogue between Yemen and the United
States regarding the remaining Yemeni detainees at
Guantanamo, Mr. Brennan raised with President Ali Abdullah
Saleh the U.S. Government's concerns about the direct return
of detainees to Yemen.

End Embassy press release text.

COMMENT
-------

8. (S/NF) To say Saleh missed a good chance to engage the new
Administration on one of its key foreign policy priorities
would be a severe understatement.  He appeared alternately
dismissive, bored, and impatient during the 40-minute
meeting.  Saleh's knowledge that Saudi Arabia will not accept
Yemeni detainees without at least tacit support from Saleh
has likely emboldened the ROYG to press publicly and
privately for an all-or-nothing push for the direct transfer
of detainees to Yemen.  Saleh clearly feels that he has the
better hand in any negotiations on the issue.  He may have
concluded that, if he holds out long enough, the USG will
eventually acquiesce to his demands because of the
Administration's timeline for closing Guantanamo in spite of
Mr. Brennan's clear message that the USG is actively seeking
alternatives.  End Comment.

9. (U) APDNSA Brennan cleared this cable.  S/WCI Ambassador
Williamson did not have the opportunity to clear this cable.
BRYAN