- Associated Press - Monday, December 26, 2011

HONOLULU — The Obama administration is considering whether to allow Yemen’s outgoing president into the U.S. for medical treatment, as fresh violence and political tensions flare in the strategically important Middle Eastern nation.

A senior administration official said President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s office requested that he be allowed to receive specialized treatment in the U.S. for injuries sustained in a June attack on his compound. The request was being considered, and would be approved for medical reasons only, the official said.

Until now, the White House had not commented on Mr. Saleh’s assertion Saturday that he would be leaving Yemen and traveling to the U.S. Mr. Saleh insisted he was going in order to help calm tensions in his country, not for medical treatment.

The official, who requested anonymity because of a lack of authorization to speak publicly, did not say when the Obama administration would decide on Mr. Saleh’s request.

But the official said Mr. Saleh’s office indicated that he would leave Yemen soon and spend time elsewhere abroad before he hoped to come to the U.S.

Demonstrators began protesting against Mr. Saleh and calling for his ouster in February. The Yemeni government responded with a bloody crackdown, leaving hundreds of protesters dead and stoking fears of instability in a nation already grappling with burgeoning extremism.

Last month, Mr. Saleh agreed to a U.S.- and Saudi-backed deal to hand over power to his vice president until pending elections set for February, and committed to stepping down completely in exchange for immunity. The deal further angered Mr. Saleh’s opponents, who demanded he be tried for the attacks on protesters.

American officials are deeply concerned that the months of turmoil in Yemen have led to a security breakdown. The Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has taken advantage of the vacuum to expend its presence in southern Yemen.

Pressure has been mounting in recent weeks for Mr. Saleh to leave Yemen altogether. Activists said troops commanded by Mr. Saleh’s relatives attacked protesters in the capital of Sanaa on Saturday, killing at least nine people.

The White House said Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, called Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi on Sunday and emphasized the need for Yemeni security forces to show “maximum restraint” when dealing with demonstrations.

Mr. Hadi told Mr. Brennan that he had launched an investigation into the recent deaths and injuries and would do his utmost to prevent further bloodshed, the White House said.

Mr. Obama was being briefed on developments in Yemen while in Hawaii for his Christmas vacation.

The U.S. has bitter experience with letting exiled Middle Eastern leaders into this country for medical treatment. President Jimmy Carter allowed the exiled shah of Iran into the U.S. for medical treatment in October 1979, eight months after Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s Islamic revolution ousted the shah.

On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian students invaded the U.S. Embassy in Iran and held 52 Americans hostage, demanding that the shah be turned over. The shah went to Egypt before Christmas 1979, but Iran kept the Americans hostage until Jan. 20, 1981, the day Mr. Carter left office.