Cargo ships dock at the port of Aden in southern Yemen [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – An armada of Iranian ships previously bound for Yemen appears to have turned around back to port.
The de-escalatory move comes one day after Saudi Arabia declared the most aggressive phase of its air campaign against Yemen’s Houthi militia, supported by Iran, largely over.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in several proxy battles across the Middle East, but none have been as violent, or have so directly involved the two rivals, as the fight currently unfolding in Yemen between the Sunni government and Shi’ite Houthis.
Local reports, unconfirmed independently by The Jerusalem Post, put the death toll in Yemen from recent fighting at more than 1,000 people. Riyadh and Tehran are now calling for a diplomatic settlement to the conflict.
Iran’s naval movements concerned Washington in recent days, and one official called the rechartering of its ships a “promising sign.”
Saudi Arabia is enforcing a naval blockade of Yemen, and the United States – aiding in the Saudi campaign— sent an aircraft carrier to the coast in light of Iran’s recent moves.
The US has accused Iran of financing, organizing and aiding the Houthis in the past, and feared its cargo ships were carrying lethal weapons to the group.
The UN Security Council recently passed a resolution prohibiting such weapons transfers.
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama said the US government had warned Iran not to send weapons to Yemen that could be used to threaten shipping traffic in the Gulf.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States was concerned the ships carried advanced weapons and called on Iran to avoid “fanning the flames” of the conflict with arms deliveries.
The US now has nine ships monitoring the Gulf of Aden, including the USS Theodore Roosevelt, previously stationed in the Arabian Gulf to aid in the fight against Islamic State.Reuters contributed to this report.
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