Washington warned Thursday it would not stand by while Tehran supports Houthi rebels in Yemen, as Iran’s supreme leader denounced Saudi-led air strikes as “criminal acts”.
In the most direct American criticism yet of Tehran’s backing for the Houthi rebels, Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would not accept foreign interference in Yemen.
“There have been — there are, obviously — flights coming from Iran. Every single week there are flights from Iran and we´ve traced it and know this,” Kerry told PBS television.
“Iran needs to recognise that the United States is not going to stand by while the region is destabilised or while people engage in overt warfare across lines, international boundaries in other countries.”
Washington has backed the air campaign which begin last month as the rebels advanced on Yemen´s main southern city of Aden after seizing Sanaa.
Iran´s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the campaign against the Houthis must end.
“This move is not acceptable in the region and I would warn that they must stop these criminal acts in Yemen,” he said on his website.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif insisted Tehran wanted a swift end to the fighting which has killed more than 640 people since March 19, according to the World Health Organization.
Kerry, after world powers agreed a framework deal with Iran on its nuclear programme, said Washington was not looking for confrontation.
“But we´re not going to step away from our alliances and our friendships and the need to stand with those who feel threatened as a consequence of the choices that Iran might be making.”
In another sign of growing US support for the Saudi effort, the Pentagon said it had started aerial refueling for coalition aircraft.
Yemen for years allowed Washington to wage a drone war against AQAP, but US forces pulled out amid the latest unrest.
Al-Qaeda has taken advantage of the chaos to seize some areas and also launch deadly attacks on both government forces and the Houthis.