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Iranian Ship Heading to Yemen

A Yemeni volunteer carries bags of rice to displaced people, who fled fighting in the southern city of Aden, during a food distribution effort in Taiz, Yemen, May 9, 2015.

A U.S. defense official Tuesday urged an Iranian ship purportedly carrying aid to Yemen to change course and head to Djibouti, where the United Nations is overseeing humanitarian deliveries.

The U.S. military is tracking the Iran Shahed vessel after Tehran said it would send warships to escort it to Yemen, where Tehran-backed Houthi rebels are fighting pro-government forces supported by Saudi Arabia.

“If the Iranians are planning some sort of stunt in the region, then they know as well as we do that it will be unhelpful and in fact could potentially threaten the cease-fire that’s been so painstakingly brought about,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Tuesday.

Warren would not comment on what the U.S. would do should the Iranian ship try to dock at a Yemeni port. The ship has moved through the Strait of Hormuz and is now reported to be in the Gulf of Oman.

Tehran said Iran Shahed is carrying humanitarian aid, but Warren countered that if that's is the case, the ship needs to go to the U.N. aid distribution center in Djibouti, not to Yemen.

“We call on Iranians to do the right thing here and deliver their humanitarian aid in accordance with U.N. protocols,” he said.

Warren said Iran already “provoked tensions” several weeks ago when it sent a convoy toward Yemen. Iran said that convoy was carrying humanitarian aid, but the U.S. suspected it was carrying weapons.

The USS Roosevelt aircraft carrier and a guided missile cruiser monitored the Iranian convoy until it reversed its path and headed back to Iran.

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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.