Iran, US and Saudi warships in tense Yemen standoff
The United States has called on Iran to send humanitarian relief for Yemen to a UN distribution center in Djibouti after Tehran announced plans to send a convoy accompanied by warships directly to the war-torn country.
The plans, announced by Iran’s state news agency IRNA, put the country on a path to a potential high-risk naval standoff with US Navy vessels patrolling the waters off Yemen to prevent weapons being smuggled into the country.
Saudi Arabia and the United States have accused Iran of supporting Houthi rebels in Yemen with weapons, but Tehran insists it is only trying to deliver aid to civilians displaced by the fighting.
The move by Iran comes less than a week after it released the container ship Maersk Tigris, which it held for a week off Bandar Abbas over an alleged commercial dispute with Maersk Line, that incident heightened tensions in the region and prompted the US Navy to increase its presence in the Strait of Hormuz.
Now, however, an Iranian cargo ship, escorted by the Iranian Navy, has reportedly departed the country bound for the Yemeni port Hodaida, which is held by Iran-allied Houthi fighters. The US Navy and Saudi Arabia have both indicated the ship will be subject to inspection.
In April, Iran ordered a Yemen-bound cargo ship to turn back after a US aircraft carrier was sent to the region, but that ship wasn’t accompanied by Iranian naval vessels.
The US on Wednesday called on Iran to follow UN protocols for the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen.
"If the Iranians follow UN protocol, move the ship to a port in Djibouti, allow the humanitarian cargo they claim is on the ship to be distributed through UN channels, then they will have done the right thing in this case," said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren.
News of the cargo ship's movement came just hours before the start of a five-day ceasefire to allow the shipment of food and medicine to the blockaded country, in which aid groups warn a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding.