Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh during a news conference at the presidential… (Yahya Arhab / EPA )
Reporting from Honolulu — The White House has not yet formally decided whether to admit Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh to the U.S. for medical treatment, but Obama administration officials as recently as last week considered granting Saleh a visa, in part to "get him out of the region," a senior administration official said Tuesday.
One advantage the administration sees in letting Saleh come to the U.S. is that it would remove from Yemen a symbol of the country's repression of its citizens and perhaps smooth the transition to new leadership, the official said.
"If he comes without a big entourage and he's in the hospital here, it does send a signal that he's really out. So that was the thinking," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.
Saleh was injured when a bomb exploded in a mosque within the presidential compound in Sana in June.
The White House said Sunday that the U.S. Embassy in Sana had received a request from Saleh's office that he be allowed to travel to the U.S. for medical care.
"He was really badly injured, so there's a real medical need," the official said.
Yet Saleh's departure from the region might also be welcomed by pro-democracy demonstrators in Yemen because it would "send a signal that he's not next door," the official added.
Still, the request is a delicate one for the administration. The U.S. risks angering the broader Yemeni population if it is seen as sheltering Saleh, who many in Yemen want punished for the government's harsh crackdown on demonstrators over the last year.
The administration is also mindful of history. In 1979, President Carter permitted the shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, to enter the U.S. for medical attention. That decision was viewed as one of the causes of the Iranian street protests that led to the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the capture of American hostages.
Asked if the shah's case was a factor weighing on Saleh's request for entry to the U.S., the administration official said: "Sure it's on people's minds. But we're trying to balance things here."
The White House has given no timetable for a decision on Saleh's request.
Josh Earnest, a White House spokesman, said in a statement that "U.S. officials are continuing to consider President Saleh's request to enter the country for the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment."