Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen whose three-decade-old rule has been threatened by popular unrest for weeks, has agreed to step down within 30 days.
The decision comes as the United States maintains a diminished but sizable footprint in Iraq, a significant number of troops in Afghanistan as well as a commitment to provide equipment for a NATO mission in Libya with spasms of pro-democratic revolt occurring across the region.
The White House Saturday cast the the development in democratic terms, urging that a transition happen quickly.
"The United States supports a peaceful transfer of power in Yemen that is responsive to the aspirations of the Yemeni people. We applaud the announcements by the Yemeni Government and the opposition that they have accepted the [Gulf Cooperation Council] GCC-brokered agreement to resolve the political crisis in a peaceful and orderly manner. We encourage all parties to move swiftly to implement the terms of the agreement so that the Yemeni people can soon realize the security, unity, and prosperity that they have so courageously sought and so richly deserve," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in a news release.
Saleh will hand power over to his deputy, according to the Associated Press. The Wall Street Journal reports that Saleh agreed to the deal, brokered by Gulf states including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in exchange for immunity for himself and for close relatives. Previously, Saleh had said he would not seek reelection after his term expired in 2013.
But as the protests intensified, Saleh's position became more tenuous. He had been close to making a deal to relinquish power about a month ago, but seemed defiant, even giving speeches in which his position seemed to harden.
"The nation is far greater than the ambition of individuals who want to seize power," Saleh told the nation's military council last month.
The State Department on Saturday stopped short of hailing Saleh's impending departure but said that "dialogue is urgently needed to reach a solution supported by the Yemeni people," according to a State Department news release.
"We will not speculate about the choices the Yemeni people will make or the results of their political dialogue. It is ultimately for the people of Yemen to decide how their country is governed," said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.
Former Secretary of State James Baker said earlier this month that Yemen's unraveling could threaten the United States beyond the threat posed by Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan.
"I would argue to you that Yemen, which is coming apart, too, may end up being more of a problem as a failed state for al-Qaida than Afghanistan," Baker said on CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS.
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