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Wall Street Journal: U.S. Freezes Aid To Yemen

In an exclusive, The Wall Street Journal reports that just as the protests against Yemen's president kicked off, the United States was in the beginning stages of sending a massive aid package to the country. But as President Ali Abdullah Saleh's people turned against him, the U.S. suspended the aid:

The first installment of the package, worth a potential $1 billion or more over several years, was set to be made in February, marking the White House's largest bid at securing President Ali Abdullah Saleh's allegiance in its battle against al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the group behind the failed underwear bombing in 2009 and the foiled air-cargo bombing plot in October.

For Mr. Saleh, the money would help shore up his shaky political position and reward the risks he took by bucking popular opinion and letting U.S. Special Forces hunt down militants inside his country.

But before the first check could be written, anti-Saleh protesters took to San'a's streets in an echo of antiregime demonstrations across the region. The Obama administration's suspension of the new aid spotlighted the unraveling of a troubled anti-terror alliance with a man who has ruled Yemen like a family fiefdom for three decades.

Throughout the protests, the U.S. has seemed firmly behind Saleh. But, as Foreign Policy explains, this weekend the U.S. finally threw Saleh "under the bus:"

On Tuesday, the Pentagon made it official, with spokesman Geoff Morrell saying the United States was "urging a negotiated transition [of power] as quickly as possible."

The relationship between Saleh and the U.S. is complicated. This BBC report on WikiLeaks documents released in December gives some background on how Saleh took responsibility for bombings carried out by the U.S., but then had no qualms about reneging on letting U.S. ground troops in the country.

But if the relationship between Saleh and the U.S. is complicated, the same diplomatic cables revealed the relationship between Saleh and the general of the Yemeni military is more intense.

More than a year before General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar took the side of the protesters, the Yemeni government almost tricked Saudi pilots into attacking al-Ahmar's headquarters by telling them the coordinates were of a rebel base. The Saudi pilots found the request strange and did not go through with the bombing.

Today , The Washington Post reports:

A senior aide to the general confirmed the version of events described in the cable. "This was not the first attempt by the president and regime to kill him," said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The aide said Saleh's staff gave the Saudis "the coordinates in a way to mislead them."Mohsen was inside the headquarters at the time, the aide said.

Ahmed al-Sufi, a spokesman for Saleh, denied the allegations and challenged the veracity of the cable. "It has no basis of truth, whatsoever," he said.

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Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.