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US Warship Heads to Yemeni Waters      04/21 06:34

   In a stepped-up response to Iranian backing of Shiite rebels in Yemen, the 
Navyaircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is steaming toward the waters off 
Yemen to beef up security and join other American ships that are prepared to 
intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthi rebels.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a stepped-up response to Iranian backing of Shiite 
rebels in Yemen, the Navyaircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is steaming 
toward the waters off Yemen to beef up security and join other American ships 
that are prepared to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the 
Houthi rebels.

   The deployment comes after a U.N. Security Council resolution approved last 
week imposed an arms embargo on leaders of the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi 
rebels. The resolution passed in a 14-0 vote with Russia abstaining.

   Navy officials said Monday that the Roosevelt was moving through the Arabian 
Sea. A massive ship that carries F/A-18 fighter jets, the Roosevelt is seen 
more of a deterrent and show of force in the region.

   The U.S. Navy has been beefing up its presence in the Gulf of Aden and the 
southern Arabian Sea in response to reports that a convoy of about eight 
Iranian ships is heading toward Yemen and possibly carrying arms for the 
Houthis. Navy officials said there are about nine U.S. warships in the region, 
including cruisers and destroyers carrying teams that can board and search 
other vessels.

   The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not 
authorized to discuss the ship movement on the record.

   Saudi Arabia and several of its allies, mainly Gulf Arab countries, have 
been trying to drive back the rebels, who seized the capital of Sanaa in 
September and have overrun many other northern provinces with the help of 
security forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The U.S. supports 
the Saudi campaign.

   Western governments and Sunni Arab countries say the Houthis get their arms 
from Iran. Tehran and the rebels deny that, although the Islamic Republic has 
provided political and humanitarian support to the Shiite group.

   The U.S. has been providing logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi 
coalition launching airstrikes against the Houthis. That air campaign is now in 
its fourth week, and the U.S. has also begun refueling coalition aircraft 
involved in the conflict.

   White House spokesman Josh Earnest would not comment specifically on any 
Navy movements in Yemeni waters, but said the U.S. has concerns about Iran's 
"continued support for the Houthis.

   "We have seen evidence that the Iranians are supplying weapons and other 
armed support to the Houthis in Yemen. That support will only contribute to 
greater violence in that country. These are exactly the kind of destabilizing 
activities that we have in mind when we raise concerns about Iran's 
destabilizing activities in the Middle East."

   He said, "The Iranians are acutely aware of our concerns for their continued 
support of the Houthis by sending them large shipments of weapons."

   The expanded U.S. Navy activity in the region comes at a sensitive time, as 
the U.S. and six world powers have reached a framework deal with Iran to 
control its nuclear program. Since the preliminary deal with reached on April 
2, Iran and the U.S. have been disputing the details of the deal. And on 
Monday, a lawyer for Tehran-based Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian said 
Tehran had charged Rezaian with espionage and three other crimes. The Obama 
administration dismisses the charges as "absurd."

   The U.S. Navy generally conducts consensual boardings of ships when needed, 
including to combat piracy around Africa and the region. So far, however, U.S. 
naval personnel have not boarded any Iranian vessels since the Yemen conflict 
began.

   Officials said it's too soon to speculate on what the Navy ships may do as 
the Iranian convoy approaches, including whether Iran would consent to a 
boarding request, and what actions the Navy would take if its request was 
refused.

   Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has been pushed to the brink of 
collapse by ground fighting and the Saudi-led airstrikes in support of current 
President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who was forced to flee to Saudi Arabia. 
Observers say the fighting in the strategic Mideast nation is taking on the 
appearance of a proxy war between Iran, the Shiite powerhouse backing the 
Houthis, and Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia.


(KA)


 
 
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