Iran allows inspection of Yemen aid ship in Djibouti
TEHRAN - Iran said on Wednesday its aid ship bound for war-torn Yemen is to dock in Djibouti for inspection, heading off a potential confrontation with the United States.
The aid "will be inspected in Djibouti. The ship will dock in Djibouti and the protocol laid down by the United Nations will be implemented," Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said, quoted by the ISNA news agency.
Iran had said the ship was expected to reach the Yemeni port of Hodeida on Thursday without stopping in Djibouti, in defiance of warnings from Washington and a Saudi-led coalition conducting air strikes on Shiite Huthi rebels in Yemen.
The vessel, renamed Nejat (Rescue), is carrying 2,500 tonnes of aid including flour, rice, canned food, medical supplies and bottled water, all urgently needed in the conflict-wracked and impoverished state.
Its passengers include doctors, anti-war activists from the United States, France and Germany, and journalists, according to Tasnim, a news agency associated with Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards.
But the ship's mission had been overshadowed by US calls for it to head to the UN emergency relief hub in Djibouti instead of docking directly in Hodeida.
The Pentagon said the US Navy was tracking the ship, angering Tehran which insisted it had UN approval for the humanitarian mission and warned against any attempt to inspect its cargo.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, accuses Tehran of arming the Huthis, a charge repeatedly denied by Iran which supports the rebels.
In another sign of easing tensions over the humanitarian efforts, UN aid chief Valerie Amos met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Tehran on Thursday to discuss speeding up relief to Yemen.
And Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, the UN envoy for Yemen, is also expected to arrive in the Iranian capital on Wednesday night.