President Ali Abdullah Salih told Vice President George Bush during talks here Friday that Yemen is eager to improve relations with the United States after years of close association with the Soviet Union, according to U.S. officials who attended the meeting.
Yemen’s bid for closer ties with Washington comes after a bloody coup in South Yemen in January that resulted in a takeover by a hard-line pro-Soviet group. The coup in the neighboring nation has upset the leadership here and raised concern in Washington.
At a press conference later in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, Bush said that in his talks with Salih and other Yemeni officials he did not get the feeling that the strong Soviet presence here would continue to block better ties with the United States “on all fronts.”
Bush and his aides were clearly pleased by the outcome of the talks with Salih, which Bush described as “very frank” and “lively.”
He said that President Reagan had invited Salih to Washington, and he announced a $5-million increase in U.S. economic aid to the nation on the Arabian Peninsula.
The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a sharp competition for influence here starting in the mid-1970s. But, despite a $400-million arms sale by the Jimmy Carter Administration in 1979, the Soviet Union had been winning out, partly because of waning U.S. interest in the country.
Bush aides had been somewhat apprehensive about the visit after learning that pro-Soviet elements in the government were seeking to disrupt it by harassing the visiting U.S. delegation and possibly provoking anti-American demonstrations. But Salih learned of the plan and quickly put a stop to it, a Bush aide said.