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U.S. Warns Iran About Shipping Weapons To Yemen

Source: RFE/RL

President Barack Obama says the U.S. government has warned Iran against delivering weapons to Yemen that could be used to threaten shipping traffic in the region.

"We've been actually very straightforward to them," Obama said in an MSNBC interview on April 21.

"There's a reason why we keep some of our ships in the Persian Gulf region and that is to make sure we maintain freedom of navigation," he said. "What we've said to them is that if there are weapons delivered to factions within Yemen that could threaten navigation. That's a problem."

The comments came after White House spokesman Josh Earnest said an aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, was heading to waters off the coast of Yemen to "maintain freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce in the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea."

The announcement followed reports of Iranian ships heading toward Yemen, possibly carrying weapons to Shi'ite Huti rebels in Yemen.

Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said, "We don't know what the Iranian convoy of ships plans to do, but we are watching them."

"By having American sea power in the region, we preserve our options," he added.

The UN Security Council has imposed an arms embargo on the Shi'ite-led rebels in Yemen.

Game of War
cartoon by Ahmadreza Sohrabi, Iranian daily Etemaad

Earlier on April 21, Saudi Arabia announced that its four-week bombing campaign against Shi'ite-led rebels in Yemen had ended.

The spokesman for a Saudi-led coalition of 10 Sunni Arab states, Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, said the air campaign "was carried out successfully" and achieved its objectives of damaging the rebels' military capabilities.

Asseri said a new operation, called Restoring Hope, would focus on finding a political solution in Yemen, protecting civilians, and supporting aid and relief efforts.

But he said the coalition would "continue to prevent Huthi fighters from moving or undertaking any operations inside Yemen."

Asisi said a naval blockade on Yemen would also continue.

The new operation will be "a combination of political, diplomatic, and military action," he said.

Both the United States and Iran welcomed the end of air strikes.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, "Positive developments in Yemen should be followed by urgent humanitarian assistance, intra-Yemeni dialogue and broad-based govt. Ready to help."

In a statement, Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, called for "the resumption of a UN-facilitated political process and the facilitation of humanitarian assistance."

According to the United Nations, 900 people have been killed in Yemen since the air strikes began.

The Shi'ite Huthi rebels took control of the capital, Sanaa, in January, and President Hadi later took refuge in Aden.

Hadi left the country in March when the Huthis, backed by army units supporting former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, reached the southern port city.

The Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia, the United States, and other countries have accused Iran of backing the Huthis, which Tehran denies.

There are fears that the conflict could turn into a proxy war pitting Shi'ite Iran against Sunni Arab states.

Obama said on April 21 that Iranian involvement would only complicate efforts to find a solution to the conflict.

"What we need to do is bring all the parties together and find a political arrangement," he said.

"It is not solved by having another proxy war in Yemen, Obama added. "We've indicated to the Iranians that they need to be part of the solution, and not part of the problem."

With reporting by, Reuters, AP, and AFP

Copyright (c) 2015 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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