The US government is trying to decide whether to let Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh travel to the US for medical treatment, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday.
Saleh was injured in a June assassination attempt that forced him into a hospital in Saudi Arabia and transferred power to his vice president last month after months of protests that brought the Gulf country to the brink of civil war.
Earnest declined to say when a decision on whether to allow Saleh into the US would be made, and denied a New York Times report that the embattled Yemeni president’s petition was accepted and he could arrive at New York-Presbyterian Hospital as soon as the end of this week.
“US officials are continuing to consider President Saleh’s request to enter the country for the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment, but initial reports that permission has already been granted are not true,” Earnest said in Hawaii, where US President Barack Obama is vacationing.
Earlier on Monday, an Obama administration official said Saleh’s office had contacted the US embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, to say the Yemeni leader wanted to get specialized care in the US to treat injuries sustained in the assassination attempt.
The attempt on Saleh’s life came after he tried to duck the power-transfer accord brokered by Gulf Arab nations, sparking street battles that devastated parts of the capital.
Hundreds of people were killed during months of protests seeking Saleh’s ouster. The political deadlock reignited simmering conflicts with separatists and militants, raising fears that Yemen’s al-Qaeda wing could take a foothold on the borders of Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter.
Allowing Saleh, who ruled Yemen for more than three decades, to get treatment in the US could undercut Obama’s message of supporting pro-democracy movements across the Arab world and condemning crackdowns on protests like those seen recently in Syria.
Embattled world leaders often travel to politically neutral Switzerland for medical care.
On Saturday, just hours after his forces killed nine people who had demanded he be tried for the killings of demonstrators over the past year, Saleh said he would leave Yemen and give way to a successor. He did not say when he would go.
Saleh suggested he would undergo medical tests in the US but characterized the trip as one of temporary exile.
“I will go to the United States. Not for treatment, because I’m fine, but to get away from attention, cameras and allow the unity government to prepare properly for elections,” Saleh said. “I’ll be there for several days, but I’ll return because I won’t leave my people and comrades who have been steadfast for 11 months.”