Yemen: Diplomacy in the Desert

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With the mud and fog of Yemen's winter came a lull in the fighting between royalist guerrillas and the rebels who overthrew Imam Mohamed el Badr three months ago. But the danger remained that the distant little struggle could bring bloody conflict to other parts of the Middle East. In the hopes of isolating the feud, President Kennedy rushed off notes to Egypt's Nasser, Crown Prince Feisal of Saudi Arabia, Jordan's King Hussein and Rebel Leader Abdullah al Sallal, who now calls himself President of Yemen.

The Kennedy plan: Nasser's troops, which have been supporting the rebels, should withdraw from Yemen while Saudi Arabia and Jordan halt their aid to the Imam.

Once that is accomplished, the U.S. will probably extend recognition to Sallal's regime.

Wily Nasser agreed to pull out his soldiers—but only after Jordan and Saudi Arabia "stop all aggressive operations on the frontiers." Feisal and Hussein peremptorily rejected Kennedy's plan, since it would involve U.S. recognition of the "rebels." Though the Imam's ragtag army has been pushed from the cities and now occupies only a worthless fringe of eastern desert, Feisal and Hussein insist that, given a chance, the Imam will regain all of Yemen. For that reason, they argue that the U.S. should withhold recognition of President Sallal. But Washington is in a bind. In the face of continuing aid from Moscow and Peking to Sallal, the U.S.

feels that it must maintain its presence in Yemen's capital of San'a.

Feisal and Hussein argue that Nasser does not really intend to pull out his thousands of troops in any case. The Saudi Arabs are certain that Egypt's boss has his eye on their huge oil fields—fifth biggest producers in the world—and hopes to use Yemen as a springboard for revolt in the rest of the Arabian peninsula.