SLUG: 2-268171 US-Cole-Yemen (L-O) DATE: NOTE NUMBER:



TITLE=Senate / Yemen


BYLINE=Rebecca Ward




INTRO: The former commander of U-S forces in the Middle East is defending his decision to have American warships refuel in Yemen, where a Navy destroyer was attacked last week by terrorist bombers. Retired General Anthony Zinni told members of the U-S Senate Armed Forces Committee Thursday that the Yemeni port of Aden was the best place for U-S warships to refuel despite known terrorist activity in the area. V-O-A's Rebecca Ward reports from Washington.

TEXT: General Zinni says he was aware that Yemen's port of Aden was accessible to terrorists, but that other ports in the region were considered even more dangerous. The general told the senators that while security problems existed in Yemen, he had a good working relationship with its president, Ali Abdallah Saleh, and that the government there had taken significant steps to resolve the situation.

/// ZINNI ACT ///

To the credit of President Saleh, he has moved to resolve and create stability here. So strategically, geographically, this was an important port.

/// END ACT ///

General Zinni says in the past, Yemen had been known to be a transit point for terrorists. And, he says the ability of terrorists to gain access to the Arabian Peninsula is worrisome.

/// ZINNI ACT ///

We have had reports of terrorists that wanted to use Yemen or were using Yemen. I don't need to tell you that because where our troops are located, the potential for them [terrorists] bringing terrorists materials through here is considerably dangerous. It was in our interest to certainly help the Yemenis control their borders, to clamp down on terrorists, to stop that one soft spot on the peninsula.

/// END ACT ///

General Zinni retired in August, but he was chief of U-S Central Command in 1998 when Yemen was awarded a refueling contract, and says he takes full responsibility for the decision. He says he surveyed the port of Aden on several occasions and had been working with the Yemenis to improve security, including helping them develop a coast guard. But the general admitted the country still has work to do in controlling terrorism.

/// ZINNI ACT ///

They were attempting to deal with this. As I said, they have convicted and executed a number of terrorists. But they had a long way to go, but they wanted to climb that mountain and go that distance to try to get there.

/// END ACT ///

The Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing began as the Navy announced it had recovered the remains of the last four sailors killed in the blast. The apparent suicide attack killed 17 sailors and injured 39. (SIGNED)