It is unclear whether protesters would accept any deal that does not include Saleh's immediate resignation [EPA]
Mixed messages continue to emerge from the Yemeni capital, where president Ali Abdullah Saleh and opposition leaders cannot even seem to agree on whether or not they're holding talks.
Both sides agree that they have met, behind closed doors and often through intermediaries, to look for a political solution that could end weeks of popular anti-government protests.
The opposition - specifically the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), an eclectic coalition of Islamists, socialists and tribal leaders - offered Saleh a "five-point plan" during meetings late on Wednesday. (The JMP, though, has called the proposal "advice for the president" rather than a concrete plan.)
The proposal would give Saleh until the end of the year to plot a transition to a new government. His government would also be required to allow free assembly, and to investigate recent attacks on protesters. More than two dozen people have been killed, and scores injured, during weeks of protests.
Mohammad al-Basha, a spokesman for Saleh, said there was an "initial agreement" between the government and the JMP. And an unnamed senior official told the Reuters news agency that the government would have a "positive response" to the proposal.
"The details are being discussed by the two sides right now, and we'll announce a final position at a later time," the official said on Thursday morning.
But the JMP itself, which reportedly offered this plan to Saleh, apparently disagrees with one of its key points. In a statement to Al Jazeera, the coalition criticised Saleh for "refusing to leave" office. "Now the street will decide," the JMP said.
Hashem Ahelbarra, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Sanaa, said Saleh was unwilling to consider a quicker timetable for his departure.
"The feedback we got from the president is that he's not willing at all to step aside," he said. "They [the opposition] consider all attempts to negotiate and offer a new initiative a waste of time. From now on they will just to take to the streets."
Yemen's Mareb Press news agency reported a similar response from the JMP: Hassan Zaid, a leader of the coalition, said there would be no dialogue with Saleh.
"There will be no dialogue with the ruling authority, except how it will leave," he said. "It's not possible for the [JMP] to enter into dialogue before it meets the demands of the people."
It's also unclear whether the protesters, who have demanded Saleh's immediate resignation, would accept the agreement. Saleh has promised to step down before, and broke those promises - in 2005, for example, he pledged not to run for re-election the following year, but went on to win another term.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that a protest leader said the movement would not accept any deal "unless the president was to leave immediately."
Saleh, a US ally and a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid from the United States, has ruled Yemen since 1978. He offered on Monday to form a unity government, but the offer was quickly rejected by the opposition.
He has sought to portray weeks of popular protests as the result of "foreign meddling"; in a speech in Sanaa on Wednesday, he blamed the United States and Israel for orchestrating the rallies, though he later called the White House to apologise for any "misunderstanding."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies