By Sam Youngman - 11/30/99 12:00 AM EST
Yemen’s president apologized Wednesday to President Obama's top counterterrorism official for suggesting the U.S. is behind political unrest in the Middle East.
President Ali Abdullah Saleh called counterterrorism chief John Brennan to "convey his regret for misunderstandings related to his public remarks that Israel and the United States have engaged in destabilizing activities in Arab countries."
The White House said that while Brennan told Saleh he appreciated the call, he also said "that any comments that seek to attribute blame for recent developments in the region are unhelpful, as they ignore the legitimate aspirations of people in the Arab world."
Saleh is among a host of Middle East leaders whose grips on power have been stretched to the limits by protesters seeking improvements in economic conditions and human rights.
Yemen is home to a menacing presence of anti-U.S. extremists, including al Qaeda on the Arabian peninsula, and Brennan has been in constant contact with Saleh in recent weeks.
In 2000, 17 U.S. sailors were killed when a suicide bomber attacked the U.S.S. Cole, which was anchored in the Yemeni port city of Aden.
According to the White House, Saleh told Brennan "he is firmly committed to meaningful political reform in Yemen and that he is reaching out to opposition elements in an effort to achieve reform through a democratic, inclusive and peaceful process."
In response, Brennan "encouraged President Saleh to continue with his constructive outreach efforts and noted that opposition groups should respond positively to President Saleh’s calls for dialogue with the government, as such engagement provides the best path to peaceful and meaningful political reform."