American Naval Force Off Yemen Gets Credit After Iranian Convoy Turns Away
By HELENE COOPER
APRIL 24, 2015
WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials on Friday credited the deployment of
an American aircraft carrier group in waters off the coast of Yemen
for a decision by Iran to turn back a naval convoy suspected of
carrying weapons bound for Shiite rebels.
Although it was unusual to dispatch such a large American naval force
to the Arabian Sea on an interdiction and deterrence mission, Pentagon
officials said the deployment — and Iran’s apparent response — had
lowered tensions in the continuing regional proxy war between Tehran
and Saudi Arabia.
The nine-ship Iranian convoy had turned north and east near the coast
of Oman, in the direction of Iran, Defense Department officials said.
Col. Steven H. Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “We do not know
their future intentions,” but added that “it’s fair to say that, yes,
this appears to be a de-escalation of some of the tensions.”
Earlier this week, the convoy had been on a course toward the Yemeni
port of Aden, prompting Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter to call on
Iran to avoid “fanning the flames” of the conflict by delivery
Continue reading the main story
The Crisis in Yemen: What You Need to Know
The United States Navy diverted the aircraft carrier group led by the
Theodore Roosevelt from its usual position in the Arabian Gulf,
through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Arabian Sea to join other
American forces conducting maritime security operations in the Arabian
Sea and the Gulf of Aden.
Defense Department officials said point of the move was twofold: One
objective was to reassure Saudi Arabia that the United States was
serious in its intent to support gulf allies that have been waging war
in Yemen — even thoughPresident Obama had no intention of actually
using the carrier group to launch American strikes in Yemen. The
second was to send a message to Iran that the United States would not
allow weapons shipments to Houthi rebels in Yemen — even though that
same message could have been delivered with a smaller vessel such as a
Defense Department officials privately made the case that, while
deploying an aircraft carrier group may have been more than was
required, the move got the point across to Iran.
“There’s very few assets the U.S. military has at its disposal with
more deterrent effect than a U.S. aircraft carrier,” one Defense
Department official said, speaking on ground rules of anonymity to
discuss internal planning.
The official said that while the United States was not planning to
launch airstrikes on Houthi targets in Yemen from the carrier, it was
“important that the Saudis know that we have an arm around their
For a month, Saudi Arabia has launched airstrikes on Houthi targets in
Yemen. The Obama administration has sided with its Arab ally in the
fight, but in recent days has sought to persuade Saudi Arabia to ease
off its air campaign as civilian casualties mounted and seek political
negotiations. The Saudi airstrikes, though, have continued.
Defense Department officials said there were no communications between
the American and Iranian ships, and they could not say what type of
cargo was being transported, although an arms shipment was suspected.
It was unclear whether the United States would have tried to board or
stop the Iranian convoy if it had continued toward Yemen; such a move
would have risked escalating the conflict in Yemen, and could have
stymied fragile negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.
Also Friday, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s former president and the
Houthis’ most important ally in the conflict, issued a statement
calling on the Houthis to implement United Nations resolutions that
require them to withdraw from territory they have occupied, in return
for an end to the “aggression” by the Saudi-led coalition.
Mr. Saleh has remained one of Yemen’s most stubbornly resilient and
powerful political figures, despite stepping down in 2012 after a
domestic uprising against his rule.
It was not clear whether his comments on Friday, including a call for
warring parties to “stop fighting” and engage in dialogue, amounted to
another survival tactic or were a genuine attempt to end the conflict.
There was no sign that Mr. Saleh’s own loyalists were standing down or
withdrawing, including from the southern port city of Aden. Units
close to Mr. Saleh have made up the bulk of the force fighting in Aden
against local southern separatist militiamen, and are accused, along
with the Houthis, of carrying out a brutal siege of the city.
Kareem Fahim contributed reporting from Djibouti, and Mohammed Ali
Kalfood from Sana, Yemen.
A version of this article appears in print on April 25, 2015, on page
A4 of the New York edition with the headline: American Naval Force Off
Yemen Gets Credit After Iranian Convoy Turns Away.
Received on Sat Apr 25 2015 - 19:37:28 EDT