HONOLULU _ The White House has not yet formally decided whether to admit Yemen President Ali Abdullah Saleh to the United States 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. would be to 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 speak publicly.
Saleh was injured when a bomb exploded in a mosque within the presidential compound in Sanaa last June.
The White House announced Sunday that the U.S. Embassy in Sanaa 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 Obama 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 past year.
The administration is also mindful of history. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter permitted the shah of Iran, 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 and the capture of American hostages.
Asked if the shah's case was a factor that weighs 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."