WASHINGTON - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said instability in Yemen posed a global threat and pledged on Monday to plug any holes in U.S. security procedures after a Christmas Day airline bombing attempt.
Clinton, in her first comments since the attempted December 25 attack on a Detroit-bound plane sparked sharp criticism of the Obama administration's counter-terror policies, said she would discuss additional steps with Obama's security cabinet this week.
With respect to what happened with the terrorist on the plane coming into Detroit, we are not satisfied, Clinton told reporters following a meeting with visiting Qatar Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani.
So we will be meeting with the president tomorrow to go over our international reviews, to hear what others in our government also have concluded and to take whatever additional steps are necessary, she said.
White House officials have conceded the Christmas Day bomb plot exposed errors but have played down the need for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the U.S. security system.
Republicans have accused President Barack Obama, who returned on Monday from a Hawaii vacation, and his Democratic administration of being weak on terrorism and unable to fix intelligence gaps that have lingered since the September 11, 2001, hijacked-plane attacks.
Despite the focus on the failed Dec 25 plot, White House spokesman Bill Burton said he did not expect the issue to keep Obama from addressing jobs, healthcare and the rest of his agenda.
When you're President of the United States you've got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, Burton said.
Security -- such as new requirements for closer screening of airline passengers from 14 countries -- would continue to be beefed up as the review progressed, he told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The president hasn't just waited for all the different pieces to come in before acting ... safety and security measures are moving forward even as the review goes on.
IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN, NOW YEMEN
With the U.S. military facing a big increase in forces battling Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan and burdened with continued responsibilities in Iraq, Yemen has proved an unwelcome new problem on the U.S. security radar.
U.S. authorities said the Christmas bomb attempt was carried out by a 23-year old Nigerian man who forged links to al Qaeda while in the impoverished country, which sits at the tip of the Arabian peninsula.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen branch of Osama bin Laden's network, claimed responsibility for the attempt to blow up the plane, which was carrying almost 300 people.
Clinton said the U.S. Embassy in Yemen -- which closed on Sunday along with two other Western embassies due to unspecified al Qaeda threats -- would only reopen when security conditions permit.
She said the situation in Yemen, where the U.S. supports a government offensive against Islamic militants amid a Shi'ite revolt in the north and separatist unrest in the south, was of global concern.
Obviously, we see global implications from the war in Yemen and the ongoing efforts by al Qaeda in Yemen to use it as a base for terrorist attacks far beyond the region, Clinton told reporters.
She said a meeting on Yemen planned for London in January would give the international community a chance to assess both the threat in Yemen and the world's response.
It's time for the international community to make it clear to Yemen that there are expectations and conditions on our continuing support for the government, so that they can take actions which will have a better chance to provide that peace and stability, she said.
(additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Jeff Mason and Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Paul Simao)