Ahmed al-Haj

SANAA, YEMEN: Outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh will leave soon to Oman, en route to medical treatment in the United States, Yemeni officials said on Saturday, part of an American effort to get the embattled strongman out of the country to allow a peaceful transition from his rule.


Washington has been trying for weeks to find a country where Saleh can live in exile, since it does not want him to settle permanently in the United States. The mercurial president, who has ruled for more than 33 years, has repeatedly gone back and forth on whether he would leave.


The officials’ comments Saturday suggested Oman, Yemen’s neighbor, could be a potential home for him. Three officials said he would go, but they were divided on whether he would remain in exile in Oman or return to Yemen after treatment. His return, even if he no longer holds the post of president, could mean continued turmoil for the impoverished nation at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula.


After nearly a year of protests demanding his ouster, Saleh in November handed his powers over to his vice president and agreed to step down. A unity government between his party and the opposition has since been created. However, Saleh — still formally the president — has continued to influence politics from behind the scenes through his family and loyalists in power positions.


The United States does not want to take him in, concerned it would be seen by Yemenis as harboring a leader they say has blood on his hands for the killings of protesters. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates already have rejected Saleh, American officials said.


Senior ruling party figure Mohammed al-Shayef said Saleh would travel “in the coming days” to Oman, then head to the United States for treatment of wounds he suffered in a June assassination attempt.


After treatment, Saleh would return to Yemen to head his People’s Congress Party, said al-Shayef, who is also a prominent tribal leader. Another top party official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk of the plans, gave the same itinerary, though he said Saleh would pass through Ethiopia en route from Oman to the United States.


Saleh himself has spoken in recent weeks of working as an opposition politician after he leaves the presidency.


However, an official in the prime minister’s office said Saleh “is supposed” to return to Oman to stay after his U.S. treatment is completed.