The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Confrontation avoided? Iranian ships and U.S. aircraft carrier both turn away from Yemen

The USS Theodore Roosevelt, rear, and the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy steam through the Arabian Sea on April 21, 2015. (ANTHONY N. HOLKOWSKI/U.S. Navy via AFP)

Tensions off the coast of Yemen between the United States and Iran appear to be dissipating, with a fleet of Iranian ships possibly carrying weapons for Yemeni rebels and a U.S. aircraft carrier both turning away from the region, Pentagon officials said Friday.

The Iranian ships have turned northeast in the Arabian Sea, away from Yemen, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt and its escort ship, the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy, also are heading back to the Persian Gulf, leaving seven other U.S. combat ships in the waters off the coast of Yemen, a Navy official told The Washington Post.

“I think it’s fair to say that this appears to be a deescalation of tensions that were discussed earlier this week,” Warren said of the Iranian ship movements.

[Why a Navy aircraft carrier was heading toward Yemen]

Navy officials said Monday that the Roosevelt and Normandy had made it through the Strait of Hormuz and were steaming through the Arabian Sea toward Yemen, where the Saudi-led war against Houthi rebels has raised tensions throughout the region. Doing so would help the Navy keep vital shipping lanes in the region safe and open, according to a Navy statement.

A flotilla of about nine Iranian ships were reported in the region earlier this week, with at least some of them armed. Warren said the United States continues to monitor them but has no communication with them.

The movements come following a Saudi-led naval effort to block weapons from reaching the Yemeni port of Aden in an attempt to stop the rebels from rearming. U.S. officials said they were not participating in the blockade, but would continue to patrol through the region as it usually does.

[Navy combat ships crowd around Yemen as Saudi-led naval blockade continues]

Moving the Roosevelt and Normandy to the Arabian Sea raised questions whether the United States was preparing to escalate. It also pulled them away from the Persian Gulf, where they had been used to support the U.S. bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. A Navy official said Friday that the ships will return to that mission.

Seven other U.S. combat ships remain near Yemen. They are: the destroyers USS Forrest Sherman and USS Winston Churchill; the minesweepers USS Sentry and USS Dextrous; and three amphibious ships carrying about 2,200 Marines, the USS Iwo Jima, the USS New York and the USS Fort McHenry. The USNS Charles Drew, the USNS Laramie and the USNS Arctic also are nearby.