- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2012

SANAA, Yemen — President Obama threw his support behind Yemen’s vice president just days before an election expected to enshrine him as the new leader of a country the U.S. sees as crucial to the fight against al Qaeda.

Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, read the text of the letter to reporters Sunday after delivering it to Vice President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi during a two-day visit to the troubled Gulf Arab nation.

Under a deal presented by Yemen’s powerful Gulf Arab neighbors, Mr. Hadi is to be rubber-stamped as the country’s new leader in presidential elections Tuesday. He is the only candidate.

In the letter, Mr. Obama said he looks forward to deeper relations between the two countries and vows that the U.S. will be “a strong and reliable partner.”

He also said he hoped Yemen’s political transformation would inspire other Middle East nations facing political transitions.

“I know you face challenges ahead, but I am optimistic that Yemen can emerge as a model for how peaceful transition in the Middle East can occur when people resist violence and unite under a common cause,” he said.

Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest country, has been torn apart during a year-old uprising seeking to oust longtime autocratic President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Mr. Saleh’s security forces have used lethal force against demonstrators, killing hundreds, and many others have died in armed clashes with security forces.

Yemen’s active al Qaeda branch, which has carried out attacks in the U.S., has exploited the unrest to seize territory in the country’s south.

The U.S. has long considered Mr. Saleh a necessary but unreliable ally in the fight against the al Qaeda branch, and has been actively involved in brokering a deal to ease the crisis.

Mr. Brennan met with Mr. Hadi during his two-day visit to Yemen that ended Sunday.

Speaking to reporters, Mr. Brennan said the U.S. looked forward to cooperating with Yemen to fight al Qaeda and spoke of the massive reforms needed.

He criticized leaders in the security apparatus who have used forces under their command for personal gain.

As for Mr. Saleh, who is currently in the U.S. for medical treatment, Mr. Brennan said he expected Mr. Saleh to return to Yemen after the election.

U.S. officials have said that while Mr. Saleh’s U.S. visit is solely medical, they hope his absence from Yemen will ease the transition.

Many in Yemen worry that Mr. Saleh, who has ruled for 33 years through a mix of shrewd politics and brute force, will continue to influence Yemeni politics through his many relatives and allies he has placed in high positions.

Mr. Brennan said Mr. Saleh would have no official role in government.

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