London conference on Yemen starts action to help stabilize Yemen, fight terror and Al-Qaeda

Riyadh to host second conference on Yemen late next month

Prince Khalid bin Sultan tours borders with Yemen, asserts no negotiations with any parties but Yemeni government

Mubarak expresses full solidarity for Yemen in message to Saleh

Afghanistan’s neighbors propose national reconciliation in the war-torn country

World powers pledged to stand side-by-side with Yemen to tackle extremism after talks in London Wednesday on stopping Al-Qaeda from creating a haven in the impoverished Arab country.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who chaired the meeting, told reporters it had been "an important step forward", while warning the "root causes" of militancy must be tackled.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fired a shot over Yemen's bows by insisting that Sana’a and the world "can and must do more" to help the country's people, the poorest in the Arab world, overcome violent Islamists.

The London talks brought together ministers and officials from 21 Western and Arab countries to discuss security plus the wider economic and political problems facing Yemen.

Britain called the meeting after a foiled Christmas Day attack on a US airliner by a Nigerian man thought to have been trained in Yemen.

A statement after the meeting flagged up the world community's commitment to "supporting the government of Yemen in the fight against Al-Qaeda" and pledged not to interfere in Yemen's internal affairs.

"The challenges in Yemen are growing and, if not addressed, risk threatening the stability of the country and broader region," the statement said. "The government recognises the urgent need to address these issues."

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi welcomed the support expressed by fellow attendees for Yemen's unity and sovereignty. "What we have achieved today does indeed achieve the results (wanted) by Yemen," he said.

Miliband said five items were agreed at the meeting, including starting talks on an IMF programme for Yemen, more engagement with its security challenges and confirmation from Yemen that it will "pursue its reform agenda".

He also announced a follow-up donors' meeting in Riyadh on February 27 and 28.

London has warned that unless Yemen is stabilised, it could become a "failed state", like its lawless neighbour Somalia.

Yemen's troubles sprang to prominence when 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate explosives in his underwear on a plane approaching the US city of Detroit on Christmas Day.

US President Barack Obama has accused Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen -- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- of training, equipping and directing the suspect. Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden claimed responsibility for the plot in an audio message broadcast this week and vowed further strikes would follow.

Yemen has ruled out allowing the United States to set up military bases on its soil and stepped up its own campaign earlier this month with a military crackdown against Al-Qaeda.

But the US military and intelligence agencies have been involved in planning and equipping secret operations with Yemeni troops in recent weeks, the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

It added that the United States was also sharing sensitive intelligence with Yemeni forces.

The London talks lasted for only two hours on the eve of a major international conference on Afghanistan here, prompting claims from some lawmakers that they were a gimmick.

Yemen's many problems -- including extremism, corruption, water shortages and a dwindling oil industry that provides three-quarters of government revenues -- should be viewed as a package, according to academics.

"Any solution for Yemen requires a regional response which includes... Yemen's relationships with Somalia," said Ginny Hill, an associate fellow at foreign affairs think-tank Chatham House.

Meanwhile, an international donor conference to assist social and economic reform in Yemen will be held in Saudi Arabia at the end of February, participants in a London meeting on Yemen agreed Wednesday. The meeting in Riyadh on February 22-23 is at the invitation of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), whose members were represented at the London talks.

A statement said the Riyadh meeting would aim to "share analysis on the barriers of effective aid in Yemen" that would lead to "joint dialogue" with the government of Yemen focusing on priority reforms.

The foreign ministers of the six GCC countries - Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates - were among 20 nations taking part in the London meeting.

In the Saudi city of Jazan, Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General for Military Affairs, toured Southern border to inspect troops stationed there, where he saw the Saudi Flag hoisting at full mast on the border strip.

During the tour, he conveyed appreciation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, who is also the Supreme Commander for all Armed Forces, and Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, to them for the bravery and endurance they have shown.

After greeting the troops, Prince Khalid said:

This Country has been endowed with wise leadership and, however, behind them are devote and loyal soldiers who made defending the motherland, on their part, their only task, so they fight lion-like and some of them have martyred.

My brothers and fellow, Evil has been woefully defeated at our border, but you have to keep vigilance, as I know all of you full well when it come to shouldering responsibility. Be careful on your lives because you are so dear, and keep patience, persistence and be confident that you will be rewarded by Allah, and then by our highly esteemed leadership, led by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, and the Crown Prince, and be sure that there is no victory without patience.

Then Prince Khalid answered questions of media men.

Asked about the offer submitted by the leader of infiltrators to withdraw from Saudi border, Prince Khalid said, Firstly, we have heard the news and we are monitoring the place.

Secondly, to take this claim seriously, and looking into history, we will find that this group has five times reached truce with Yemeni governments and rescinded their promise. Thirdly, if they repatriated the six Saudi missing soldiers, pull out the snipers with them, and make a buffer zone from the Yemeni governmental armed forces on an area no less than ten kilometers away from the Saudi troops, then we could leave the matter up to Sana’a to deal with it as a local issue.

He stipulated that the three steps should take place simultaneously for them to prove good will.

He noted that the reported statement on withdrawal also sent confusing and contradicting signals as it was speaking about walking out and that the Kingdom has attacked them in their territories.

On the tactic followed by the infiltrators, Prince Khalid bin Sultan said he knows every detail about it and could not say more.

He confirmed that plans are underway to establish a military city along the southern border of the Kingdom.

He also reiterated what he said two to three days ago that the Saudi armed forces have purified the area from infiltrators, forcing them to opt for withdrawal. However, snipers still come from three areas every time and then, he added.

Prince Khalid urged residents of border villages to continue evacuating the region.

In response to a question, he confirmed that there is complete coordination between the Saudi and Yemeni governments.

'Whatever we do, is known to Yemeni government', he said. He denied reports on any foreign participation or role to drive the infiltrators back.

Asked on ways of dealing with war prisoners, Prince Khalid said infiltrators who just cross the border will be subject to the Ministry of Interior's regulations, as is the case tens of years ago, but infiltrators who carry weapons against our soldiers will be subject to investigation. If matters were settled, they would be repatriated to the Yemeni government.

Regarding tribes on the border, Prince Khalid admitted the presence of shared tribes between the two countries, a matter that receives reciprocal respect and give-and-take from the two sides.

However, we should differentiate between them and those who crossed the border to fight us. Those have been destroyed with many of them killed in action. But if the survivors opted to go back home, we are not going to chase them inside the Yemeni territories.

He said some of the prisoners are Somalis or Eritreans who might have joined the infiltrators for personal purposes.

On the other hand, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a message to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh in which he said Egypt will support Yemen to retain its stability, peace and unity.

Egypt will back Yemen so that the London conference may bring out good results that serve the interests of Yemen and boost its capability to face challenges, the message reads.

President Saleh held talks with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman during which they handed over the message to him.

According to the report, Saleh discussed with the two Egyptian delegates several issues of mutual concern topped with preparations for London conference.

Called for by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London conference aims to mobilize international support for Yemeni government to face challenges of combating terrorism, as well as to find out appropriate mechanism to coordinate the process of international support to the impoverished in economic and good governance fields.

Meanwhile, Afghanistan's neighbors met in Turkey on Tuesday seeking a "single voice" before a London conference to set a timetable for handing security over to Afghans and find ways to negotiate peace with the Taliban.

Low-level talks with the Taliban have been going on behind the scenes for years, analysts say, but there can be little progress while the insurgents believe they are winning the war.

Underlying the need for peace, a suicide attack in the Afghan capital Kabul on Tuesday led to casualties among Afghan civilians and foreign troops, a security source said.

The Taliban have launched hundreds of suicide attacks in the last three years in order to demonstrate to Afghans that their government and its Western backers cannot bring security.

Washington is sending extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan to persuade the Taliban that a military victory is not possible and force the hardline Islamists to negotiate in earnest.

The interests of Afghanistan's neighbors also have to be reckoned with however, especially those of Pakistan which U.S. officials accuse of harboring Afghan Taliban fighters, and Iran which U.S. generals have said helps covertly arm the insurgents.

"The aim of the meeting is to find a single voice in the region to take to the London conference," said a Western diplomat attending the gathering in Istanbul on Tuesday.

"The aim is to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet in the medium and long-term."

Among those attending the Istanbul meeting were China's foreign minister, Iran's vice-president, Russia's deputy foreign minister, Britain's foreign minister and the deputy to U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke.

Officials from Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, NATO and the European Union were also in Istanbul.

Ministers from some 60 countries are then to meet in London on Thursday to further galvanize support for Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to present the London conference with details of a program to "reach out" to Taliban insurgents as part of a political settlement. The United States and Europe both back his reconciliation efforts, he said on Monday after meeting Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.

Pakistan has long played an important role in Afghan affairs, having nurtured the Afghan Taliban during the 1990s, but Kabul remains suspicious that Islamabad is pursuing its own agenda in the country to the detriment of Afghanistan.

Zardari would not be drawn into the plan to negotiate with the Taliban, but told a news conference alongside Karzai on Monday: "If there are any people who are reconcilable, democracy always welcomes them back."

U.S. and NATO generals have long recognized the need for negotiations to end a war now into its ninth year. British army chief General Sir David Richards told Reuters negotiations with the Taliban could be considered but must be done from a position of strength. "So it's a matter of timing, not the principle."

President Barack Obama hopes to achieve that strength by sending extra troops, but to enable him to also meet his 2011 timetable to start drawing down U.S. troop numbers, Afghan forces need to be bolstered and begin taking over responsibility for security in some areas.

Obama plans to ask Congress for another $14.2 billion to train Afghanistan's army and police over the next two years, Pentagon budget documents showed, more than double the $6.6 billion already allocated for Afghan security forces this year.

The money aims to increase the numbers of Afghan army and police from some 190,000 now to 305,600 by October 2011.

Obama has also requested $33 billion in emergency funds to support his U.S. troop buildup for the rest of fiscal 2010.

Germany will send 500 additional non-combat troops to Afghanistan, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday, adding to the 4,500 troops its present parliamentary mandate allows.