WASHINGTON: The United States insisted on Tuesday it had not yet decided whether to allow Yemen's embattled President Ali Abdullah Saleh into the country for medical treatment.
"Despite reports to the contrary, the United States is still considering President Saleh's request to enter the United States for the sole purpose of seeking medical treatment," deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner said.
"Only at the end of this internal review process will a final visa adjudication be made. The Department of State will confirm that a decision has been reached only after this process has been completed."
As fresh violence raged in Yemen at the weekend, Saleh caused a stir by saying he wanted to visit the United States, but was not seeking treatment for wounds sustained in an attack on his palace in June.
A senior US official said Saleh's office had contacted the US embassy in Sanaa and said the president wanted to go to the United States to seek "specialized medical treatment."
White House deputy spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday that US officials were still considering Saleh's request and no decision had been made, after the New York Times quoted an official saying the Yemeni leader would be granted entry.
On Tuesday, Toner said: "In all cases in which a foreign national seeks to travel to the United States, a formal process is undertaken to determine the applicant's eligibility for a visa to the United States.
"This process can vary in length of time, and until each step of the process is complete, no final determination is made."
Saleh's request puts the administration of US President Barack Obama in a tight spot.
Washington wants to ensure that the political transition in Yemen up to elections in February, after which Saleh has said he will stand down, goes smoothly. Some observers believe this is more likely with the president gone.
But if it does admit Saleh, the Obama administration would likely face intense criticism if it is seen as harboring a leader blamed for the deaths of hundreds of people in protests against his rule.
Story first published:
December 28, 2011 14:18 IST