Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh on Tuesday told the U.S. ambassador in Sana’a that he is committed to a plan to step down amid political violence, the State Department said.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland welcomed Saleh’s remarks but said that he needed to live up to his promises, after a string of statements by the veteran leader voicing support for the plan without implementing it.
Saleh met with U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein to discuss developments in Yemen after the U.N. Security Council and the United States both urged him to begin the transfer of power immediately, Nuland said.
“It is a positive step that he called the ambassador in and recommitted to him – to us, to the international community -- that he intends to sign it,” Nuland told reporters.
“So now we look for him to make good on that commitment,” she said.
Under the plan brokered by the Gulf Cooperation Council, Saleh would step down 30 days upon signing of the deal in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
Yemen’s government and dissident general Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, whose forces have been engaged in bloody battles for weeks, on Tuesday announced a truce but the agreement immediately crumbled with 15 people killed in fresh violence.
Saleh had also wanted to speak to the U.S. ambassador about the cease-fire, Nuland said.
While acknowledging the truce has not held, Nuland said it was a “good step” that Saleh “is supportive of the fact that the violence has got to end so that we can set the conditions for discussions about Yemen’s diplomatic future.”
Earlier on Tuesday, the Yemeni government signed a ceasefire with a dissident general to try to end weeks of worsening bloodshed, but sporadic explosions and gunfire could still be heard in the north of the capital.
A government official said the deal between Saleh’s government and breakaway General Ali Mohsen would take effect at 3 p.m. (1200 GMT) on Tuesday, but residents of the Hasaba and Sofan neighborhoods in northern Sana’a said they heard explosions after that time.
State media later said the truce was stabilizing and a mediator expressed optimism it would hold.
“In spite of the violations of the ceasefire, the mediation committee is still ... making contacts with all parties to implement the agreement. The issue is not easy but we are still optimistic,” the mediator told Reuters.
After months of protests against Saleh’s 33-year rule, a standoff between Saleh and an opposition made up of protesters, tribesmen and renegade soldiers tipped last month into bloody street fighting. Previous truce accords have failed to hold.
Earlier on Tuesday, security forces opened fire on a protest march in the capital Sana’a, killing two people, witnesses said. An opposition source said a third person was killed in shelling by Saleh’s troops in the Sofan district.
In fighting between state forces and opposition fighters in the city of Taiz on Tuesday, eight civilians were killed and more than 30 wounded, an opposition source said. The government said three members of its security forces were killed there.
Under the ceasefire deal mediated by a local committee, both sides agreed to dismantle armed checkpoints across the capital and release all those kidnapped during months of anti-government protests.
For months, Saleh has defied hostile demonstrations inspired by protests across the Arab world and refused to step down in line with a plan brokered by Gulf states. The United States and Saudi Arabia fear the upheaval is giving al-Qaeda’s local wing more room to operate in the poorest Arab country.
The truce agreement came four days after a United Nations Security Council resolution condemned violence in Yemen and urged Saleh to sign the Gulf initiative to hand over power. Violence has not abated.
Saleh welcomed the Security Council resolution on Monday. He has backed out of the Gulf initiative at the last minute three times and says he will transfer power only to “safe hands”.