By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama praised Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi for his work combating terrorism but made no mention of efforts to repatriate detainees from the Guantanamo Bay prison in public remarks at the White House on Thursday.
Hadi met Obama in the Oval Office a day after he tried to persuade U.S. senators to send home dozens of Yemeni detainees held at the controversial U.S. facility in Cuba.
The Obama administration said last week it planned to repatriate two Guantanamo inmates to Algeria, resuming the transfer of detainees for the first time in nearly a year and raising expectations that the United States was moving closer to shuttering the prison, which Obama has promised to do.
Yemen's support is critical to closing Guantanamo because 56 of the 86 detainees who have been cleared for transfer or release are from the impoverished country on the Arabian Peninsula.
Al Qaeda's regional wing is active in Yemen, causing concern for U.S. officials, who fear that released prisoners would eventually join up with Islamist militants.
Obama promised in May to end a ban on transferring Yemenis back home, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives recently voted twice to block the transfer of detainees to Yemen.
During remarks before journalists after the meeting, Obama thanked Hadi for his government's cooperation on counterterrorism.
"Because of some of the effective military reforms that President Hadi initiated when he came into this office, what we've seen is al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, move back out of territories that it was controlling," Obama said.
"And President Hadi recognizes that these threats are not only transnational in nature, but also cause severe hardship and prevent the kind of prosperity for the people of Yemen themselves," he said.
The United States sees Yemen as a front line in its war on al Qaeda and has used drones there for years to target the group.
Hadi noted that cooperation with Washington on counterterrorism had helped his country.
"As a result of the activities of al Qaeda, Yemen's development basically came to a halt whereby there is no tourism, and the oil companies, the oil-exploring companies had to leave the country as a result of the presence of al Qaeda," he said through a translator.
"So our cooperation against those terrorist elements are actually serving the interests of Yemen," he said.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)