Report: U.S. Officials Asked Iran to Defuse Red Sea Tensions

Houthi rebels patrol the Red Sea (file image courtesy Houthi Military Media)
Houthi rebels patrol the Red Sea (file image courtesy Houthi Military Media)

Published Mar 13, 2024 8:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

Yemen's Houthi rebel movement is widely believed to receive direct support from the Iranian military, including support for its anti-shipping campaign in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The Biden administration has publicly asked China to use its influence with Iran to rein in the Houthis; officials have now acknowledged that the U.S. held its own secret talks with Iranian officials, mediated by Oman, according to the Financial Times and CNN.

Iranian and American officials both confirmed the talks to the FT. In January, two of the White House's top Mideast advisors traveled to Oman for "proximity" talks with their Iranian counterparts. The Iranian delegation was led by Tehran's nuclear negotiator, deputy foreign minister Ali Bagheri Kani.

In addition to discussions of Iran's nuclear program, the White House's representatives asked Iran to cease its support for the Houthi campaign, which has caused the deaths of three seafarers and the loss of one vessel to date. 

Iran and the U.S. have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980. For this meeting, the two sides were in the same building but did not interact face to face, and Omani intermediaries handled the process of transferring messages back and forth. The meeting occurred once, and has not been reconvened since, an official told CNN. 

The State Department has not confirmed the talks, but told the FT that it has many channels to pass messages to Iran about the full range of Tehran's actions in the region.