WASHINGTON — The prospect of a U.S.-Iranian confrontation over the potential delivery of Iranian weapons to rebels in Yemen has receded, Pentagon officials said Friday.
U.S. Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said the nine-ship Iranian convoy had reversed course, heading back in the general direction of Iran. Earlier this week, it had been on a course toward the Yemeni port of Aden.
"We do not know their future intentions," Warren said, but the ships as of Friday were in the Arabian Sea, proceeding to the northeast off the coast of Oman.
Warren said the prospect of a confrontation had abated.
"It's fair to say that this appears to be a de-escalation of some of the tensions that were being discussed earlier in the week," Warren said.
The turning point appeared to be the U.S. Navy's announcement Monday that the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt had departed its usual position in the Persian Gulf and was to join other U.S. forces conducting maritime security operations in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden off Yemen's coast.
The Navy said the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy was escorting the carrier.
That triggered speculation that the U.S. might intercede to stop the Iranian cargo ships from entering a Yemeni port. But it never reached that point. The Roosevelt never got as far south as the Gulf of Aden or even came close to the waters off Yemen, and U.S. officials said there never was any communication between U.S. ships and the Iranian convoy about what type of cargo was being transported.
U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Friday that he welcomed the departure of the Iranian ships, even though the U.S. is still not sure where the ships are headed.
Carter said it wasn't clear whether the ships turned around as a result of any U.S. military movements.