Yemen: Pax Americana?

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Yemen's President Abdullah Sallal was growing impatient. "From this holy place, from this great mosque and from this pure spot," he declared grandly in his dusty capital of San'a, "I warn America that if it does not recognize the Yemen Arab Republic, I shall not recognize it!" The U.S. was not exactly cowed by Sallal's threat, but it was anxious to quarantine the civil war in Yemen before it engulfed the whole Middle East—a distinct possibility, with Egypt's President Nasser lined up behind Sallal and Saudi Arabia and Jordan supporting the deposed Imam Mohamed el Badr. Last week, after nearly three months of hesitation, the U.S. became the 34th nation to recognize the Yemen Arab Republic.

Washington moved only after squeezing promises of good behavior out of Sallal and Nasser. Prodded by U.S. Charge d'Affaires Robert Stookey. Sallal proclaimed Yemen's "firm policy to honor its international obligations"—including a 1934 treaty pledging respect for Britain's Aden Protectorate, home of a troublemaking Yemeni minority. In Cairo, Nasser's government promised to "start gradual withdrawal" of its 18,000-man expeditionary force, "provided Saudi and Jordanian forces also retire from border regions." But Nasser will leave swarms of technicians and advisers behind.

Jordan's King Hussein and Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Feisal, who fear that the example of a successful revolution in Yemen will spark trouble within their own kingdoms, were acknowledged by U.S. officials to be "extremely unhappy." The U.S. is aware of their fears, but is gambling that the example of Yemen will prove a spur to reform rather than revolution in all the Middle East's monarchies.

Though Arab newspapers hailed the U.S. action as the creation of a "Pax Americana," the civil war was far from over, and the rival forces continued to broadcast grim communiques. From San'a came an unconfirmed report that the Imam's cousin, Prince Hassan, 31, had been killed in action. Not to be outdone, the royalists claimed the slaughter of precisely 888 rebels—including 88 Egyptians —in a two-day battle along the borders of northeastern Yemen.