Iran pledges to protect shared security interests with Yemen

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's deputy foreign minister said Tehran will not let regional powers jeopardize its security interests in Yemen, Tasnim news agency reported, in the strongest acknowledgement yet of Iranian involvement in the Arabian peninsula. Iran has denied accusations from Western and Arab states that it is arming Shi'ite Muslim Houthi rebels in Yemen, though a U.N. sanctions monitoring panel revisited those allegations in a confidential report this week. Tehran has regularly condemned a Saudi-led air campaign against the insurgents. "Others will not be allowed to put our shared security at risk with military adventures," Hossein Amir Abdollahian said, according to the Iranian Tasnim news agency in an article published on Saturday. Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as the guardian of Sunni Islam, has long vied for influence with Iran, the region's main Shi'ite Muslim power. The Saudi-led coalition has been carrying out air strikes in Yemen since late March against the Houthis and their allies, whose rapid advances forced Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and his government into exile in Riyadh. Iran does not recognize Hadi and has portrayed the air strikes as an intervention in Yemen's internal affairs. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia said coalition jets destroyed the runway of Yemen's Sanaa airport to prevent an Iranian cargo plane from landing there. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that several countries, including Iran, backed a negotiated political process to resolve the conflict in Yemen. "As long as that is yet untested and unfailed ... all of us have hopes that Yemen can find a path forward," Kerry said during a visit to Sri Lanka. "It is not going to be easy, many things have to happen." The U.N. Panel of Experts, which monitors compliance with the Security Council’s Iran sanctions regime, noted in its latest annual report that Tehran shipped to arms to a number of recipients in the Middle East in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, including the Houthis, Hamas and Hezbollah. According to the panel’s analysis of the 2013 seizure of a Yemen-bound ship, media reports and information received from the Yemeni government, Iranian arms shipments to the Houthis date back to at least 2009. The panel's report, which was seen by Reuters, said that apart from the 2013 incident no alleged arms shipments by Iran to the Houthis were officially reported to the panel or to the U.N. Security Council’s Iran sanctions committee. (Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in New York and Lesley Wroughton in Colombo; editing by Ralph Boulton and Matthew Lewis)