Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has been convinced to stay out of Yemen by US officials, according to the Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Saleh, who has been recuperating in Saudi Arabia from wounds sustained in an assassination attempt at his palace mosque months ago, has left the hospital. However, he has not returned to Yemen, as his lieutenants have vowed since he left the country.

The report came a day after the veteran Arab leader left hospital in Riyadh and was moved to a government residence for further recuperation, as mass protests against his 33-year rule wore into their seventh month.

Yemeni officials denied the report and said the president would return to Sanaa, where fighting between troops loyal to Saleh and pro-opposition tribesmen has been increasing […]

Citing U.S. sources, the London-based Asharq al-Awsat said Washington had managed to pressure Saleh, 69, into retreating from his promise to return and lead a dialogue in Yemen.

They told Asharq al-Awsat that Saleh had been greatly influenced by the spectacle of toppled Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, who faced charges from within a black cage in a Cairo court last week.

The sources told the paper the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Gerald Feierstein, had told the State Department to refrain from publicising pressure on the Yemeni president because he is “a stubborn person and cannot be put in a corner.”

Well, so much for that.

Saleh is in a tough spot. The Saudis have told him that he cannot stay in their country unless he signs the GCC-backed deal to transfer power with early elections. The Americans, if this report is correct, have basically told him that he will end up on a gurney in a cage on trial like Hosni Mubarak if he returns to Yemen. So Saleh is a man without a country unless he relinquishes power, which has defined him for decades.

Saleh’s ruling party compatriots are acknowledging that some version of the GCC power transfer will happen, though their gambit will be to eliminate the time frames on the deal and just keep Saleh in power indefinitely. Meanwhile the protests and counter-protests continue in the capital and throughout the countryside, although the consensus of Saleh needing to go seems prominent.

David Dayen

David Dayen