Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh said on Monday he was ready to step down within 90 days of reaching a deal on a formal process for implementing a Gulf initiative aimed at ending the nine-month-old crisis in his country.
In an interview with the French broadcaster France24, Saleh, who has been clinging to power for 33 years, said “sure, sure,” when asked if he intends on stepping down.
Saleh, who has so far refused to sign the accord proposed by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in April, said in the interview that he had given his deputy, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, authority to negotiate a deal with the opposition.
Asked when he would leave office, Saleh said: “When an agreement on the Gulf initiative is reached, and when it is signed, and (it is agreed) on the operational mechanism and when elections are held, the president will leave.”
Asked if there was a time frame for his departure, he said: “It is defined. It is within 90 days (of an agreement).”
“I have 33 years of experience in power and I know the difficulties, I know the negatives and positives. The one who clings to power is mad,” he said.
His remarks came as the U.N. envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, called on Monday for a rapid transfer of power in the unrest-swept country, following talks with dissident General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.
“The time has come to speed up change in Yemen and begin a power transfer,” Benomar told reporters.
The U.N. backs a Gulf plan under which Saleh would hand power over to his deputy in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and members of his family.
An opposition official said on Sunday that Saleh was trying to thwart the mission by Benomar to implement the Gulf initiative, by insisting on staying in office until new elections are held.
“Saleh wants to preserve all his powers until the election of a new president and that is rejected by the opposition and because of this the U.N. envoy’s mission is going to fail,” said the official, who declined to be identified.
Saleh has welcomed but has yet to sign the Gulf plan.
On Monday he told France24 he has “never refused to sign it” but wanted to “read it and work on a mechanism” to implement it.
Benomar urged all Yemeni factions to reach an agreement “to save the Yemeni people from the sufferings of the current crisis,” the Yemeni Defense Ministry’s website said.
“I am in nearly daily contact with all political sides in Yemen and efforts are continuing to reach a peaceful end to the crisis,” he added.
Under an “operational mechanism” proposed by Benomar, Saleh would step down immediately, triggering the formation of a national unity government ahead of early presidential elections. A body would be set up to restructure the armed forces.
Saleh said he had no objection to restructuring the armed forces, which split after the protests against his rule began in February. “Restructuring the army, I have no problem with that. The army belongs to the homeland and is not a personal property,” he said.
Saleh also denied his government has cracked down on protesters demanding his ouster and said the Arab Spring that has seen many autocratic Arab leaders forced to quit was merely “Arab chaos.”
Several hundred people have been killed since protests against the president that erupted in January degenerated into battles between rival troops backed by tribesmen from both sides.