Iran signals intent to send weapons to Yemen as arms embargo expires

Yemeni government calls on international community to extend sanctions on Tehran

In this Oct. 13, 2020, photo, released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani wearing a protective face mask to help prevent spread of the coronavirus attends a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Iran is confronting a new surge of infections that is filling hospitals and cemeteries alike. Weeks after Rouhani called in-person instruction at schools “our first priority,” the government shut the newly resumed schools and universities in the capital.  (Office of the Iranian Presidency via AP)
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Iranian officials signalled their intent to supply Yemen’s Houthi rebels with arms after the expiry of a decades-long UN arms embargo that barred them from buying foreign weapons.

Tehran has been accused of supporting the rebels who staged a coup in 2014, ousting the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa and sparking a five-year conflict.

"We will be able to sell our arms to anyone we choose and we can purchase arms from anyone we choose,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday.

The president’s comments were repeated by Iran’s UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi, who said Tehran was prepared to buy and sell military equipment and weapons.

"Iran has many friends and trading partners, and has a robust domestic arms industry to ensure its defence requirements against foreign aggression," Mr Miryousefi told Newsweek.

"We will trade, on the basis of our national interests, with other countries in this field."

He did not specify to which countries Iran would sell its weapons.

But a member of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee in the Iranian Parliament, Abu Al Fadl Beki said they would most likely be going to Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

“Iran will be free to buy and sell defence equipment after the embargo is lifted, which will allow us to easily sell weapons to Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon,” Mr Beki told Russian state news agency Sputnik.

Yemen’s government condemned the statements by the Iranian officials and called on the international community to extend the arms embargo.

The country’s Information Minister, Muammar Al Eryani, said the statements were “confirmation” of the Iranian regime's intentions to send weapons and advanced technology to the Houthi rebels.

“For years they have been involved in managing smuggling activities in to Yemen, which is a blatant violation of UN Security Council resolutions regarding the arms embargo on the militia, and a flagrant challenge to the international community,” Mr Al Eryani said.

The embargo on Tehran meant it could not buy foreign weapons such as tanks and fighter jets as planned under its nuclear deal with world powers, despite objections from the US.

Washington banned Tehran from buying major foreign weapon systems in 2010 amid tensions over its nuclear programme. An earlier embargo targeted Iranian arms exports.

“Every nation that seeks peace and stability in the Middle East and supports the fight against terrorism should refrain from any arms transactions with Iran,” said the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

Mr Pompeo said providing arms to Iran would only aggravate tension in the region and put more dangerous weapons into the hands of terrorist groups and proxies.

Meanwhile, Tehran appointed a new ambassador to the Houthi-held capital of Sanaa on Saturday.

Hassan Eyrlou has arrived in the city, Foreign Ministry spokesman Said Khatibzadeh told the Fars news agency on Saturday.

Iran has not appointed an ambassador to Yemen since 2015 when Mr Eyrlou's predecessor left.

The ministry said this was because of attacks on the embassy.

The government condemned the move and said it did not recognise the presence of any diplomatic officials In Sanaa who were linked to the rebels.