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US Embassy in Yemen Closing Due to Turmoil

Map of Sana'a, Yemen

Map of Sana'a, Yemen

The U.S. Embassy in Yemen is closing because of deteriorating security conditions since last month's forced resignation by the country’s president.

A U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, confirmed an earlier statement Tuesday by Yemeni employees at the embassy in Sana'a. The employees said that the ambassador informed staff the mission was closing and that he would leave Yemen by Wednesday.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki refused to confirm the report. She would only say that the situation is "volatile" and that the U.S. remains engaged with "numerous parties in Yemen to find a peaceful way forward."

"Obviously, the safety and security of our personnel is one of our top priorities," Psaki said.

A Pentagon spokesman on Tuesday acknowledged that Yemen's political unrest is impacting U.S. counter-terrorism capabilities, but said that the U.S. military is still training some Yemeni forces and still could carry out operations inside the country against al-Qaida militants.

"There's no question as a result of the political instability in Yemen that our counter-terrorism capabilities have been ... affected," Rear Admiral John Kirby, the spokesman, said at a news briefing.

Ambassador Matthew Tueller said Washington may ask Turkish and Algerian diplomats in Sana'a to represent U.S. interests there for the time being.

Last month, Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels confronted Yemen's President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and forced him and his government to resign.

Earlier this month, four former U.S. ambassadors – Ryan Crocker, Robert Ford, James F. Jeffrey and Ronald Neumann – said they oppose closing the embassy if that action was to be made "solely on the basis of danger" in Sana'a. They also said such a decision should not be made "primarily in Washington."

The ambassadors wrote in a blog published by The Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper, that "the interaction with key players in Yemen can only be maintained by an ambassador," who should be the last to leave the country.

"The ambassador will have to calmly weigh risk against mission utility," they added.

Although the State Department's Psaki neither confirmed nor denied there was a decision to close the Yemen embassy, she said the staffing level has been reduced in recent days. The Sana'a embassy announced on its website Sunday that all consular services were suspended "until further notice."

Psaki said the United States is staying in contact with all the parties in Yemen, including the Houthis, in efforts to stabilize the situation.

VOA's Sharon Behn contributed to this report. Some additional information was provided by AP and Reuters.