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World Powers Call On Yemen To Fight Al-Qaeda With Reforms

A mosque and ancient buildings in Yemen's Old City of Sanaa

A mosque and ancient buildings in Yemen's Old City of Sanaa

The United States has led a call for Yemen to aggressively pursue reforms aimed at rooting out terrorist groups who are rapidly establishing the country as their base.

At a one-day conference in London on January 27 attended by Western and Arab Persian Gulf powers, the impoverished and war-torn Arab country was urged to tackle its deep problems of poverty and lawlessness.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government to move quickly to enact political and economic reforms aimed at addressing crippling poverty, food, and water shortages and mass illiteracy. Almost half the country's 23 million people live on less than $2 a day.

But she warned that if left unchecked, the culture of violence would undermind those reforms.

"So we expect Yemen to enact reforms, continue to combat corruption and improve the country's investment and business climate," Clinton said. "The progress in Yemen also depends on resolving conflict and ending violence."

The conference was hastily organized by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown after a Nigerian man allegedly attempted to bring down a U.S. airliner with a bomb on December 25.

U.S. intelligence agencies have since learned that Omar Faruk Abdulmutallab was recruited and trained by a little-known group called Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which uses Yemen as its base of operations.

The attack urgently underscored how Al-Qaeda could threaten Western interests from Yemen, which has all the hallmarks of a soon-to-be failed state. Along with Al-Qaeda, Yemen faces a Shi'ite Muslim revolt in the north, a secessionist movement in the south, water shortages, falling oil income, and weak state control.

Somalia, just across the Gulf of Aden, is already a hotbed of terrorist activity.

In London, Clinton said Yemen's instability poses "an urgent national security priority" to the United States and other nations and said the international community "must do more."

"The United States is intensifying security and development efforts with Yemen," Clinton said. "We are encouraged by the government of Yemen's recent efforts to take action against Al-Qaeda and against other extremist groups."

But she also called on the government of Yemen to do its part, saying "this must be a partnership if it is to have a successful outcome."

A joint statement released at the end of the two-hour meeting said that "the challenges in Yemen are growing and, if not addressed, risk threatening the stability of the country and broader region."

Sanaa said it would push ahead with political reform and start discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) about a program to boost its economy.

Meanwhile, "The Washington Post" reported that the U.S. military's clandestine Joint Special Operations Command -- whose primary mission is killing and tracking suspected terrorists -- is coordinating secret joint operations with Yemeni troops against terrorist elements in the country.

The newspaper reported that the operation began some six weeks ago and was personally approved by President Barack Obama.

It said U.S. advisers are involved with planning missions, developing tactics, and providing weapons to Yemeni forces who conduct raids on suspected terrorist locations.