(AA) — U.S. officials insist the USS Theodore Roosevelt’s mission off of Yemen is to ensure commercial lanes remain open but a Pentagon spokesman said an Iranian armada in the region is a factor for deployment.
The USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier has made its way to the Arabian Sea escorted by the USS Normandy guided missile destroyer, the U.S. Navy confirmed Monday.
The deployment of the aircraft carrier came shortly after the reports surfaced that an Iranian armada of seven to nine ships was sailing toward Yemen in a potential attempt to resupply Shiite Houthi rebels currently fighting the Yemeni government.
“Many have asked me whether or not they are there because of the Iranian ship convoy or flotilla that is also in the area. That is certainly one of the factors,” Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren told reporters Tuesday during a gaggle.
Obama administration officials have insisted that the Roosevelt’s mission is to ensure the free flow of commerce and navigation in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden.
In a statement the Navy also said the purpose was “to ensure the vital shipping lanes in the region remain open and safe.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest, however, conceded that the administration considered Iranian moves in the region while making the decision to deploy the Roosevelt.
The U.S. has long argued that Iran is supplying arms to the Houthis in Yemen but administration officials avoided making specific comments about the Iranian flotilla.
“The U.S. is aware of Iranian ships in the region and carefully monitors the flotilla,” a Defense Department official told The Anadolu Agency.
While reiterating the officially stated reason for the Theodore’s deployment, the official implied possible flexibility in U.S. actions regarding the ships.
“That is the mission which is based on the security instability in Yemen. Overall, the placement of these vessels enables options to be preserved,” he said.
Because the U.S. deployment followed a UN Security Council resolution with respect to an arm embargo on Yemen, some are debating whether Washington took action pursuant to the resolution.
The Security Council resolution approved last week imposed an arms embargo on leaders of the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, who have taken over much of Yemen.
The resolution passed in a 14-0 vote with Russia abstaining.
Earnest pointed out that the U.S. is committed to standing with the international community with respect to the arms embargo.
“A specific arms shipment from the Iranians intended for the Houthis would be a pretty clear violation of the United Nations Security Council embargo. No doubt about that,” he said, while neglecting to say what steps the U.S. would take if it found Iran in violation of the embargo.