update deskMiddle East

Report: US, Iran held talks amid Red Sea escalation

Indirect talks marked the first interaction between Tehran and Washington in 10 months.

U.S. Central Command forces shot down one anti-ship ballistic missile and three one-way attack unmanned aerial systems launched from Iranian-backed, Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen towards the “USS Carney” in the Red Sea on March 5, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.
U.S. Central Command forces shot down one anti-ship ballistic missile and three one-way attack unmanned aerial systems launched from Iranian-backed, Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen towards the “USS Carney” in the Red Sea on March 5, 2024. Credit: Courtesy.

The United States has been engaged in secret talks with Iran in an attempt to halt Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.

These indirect negotiations, held in Oman in January, marked the first interaction between the two countries in 10 months, according to the report. The U.S. delegation was led by Brett McGurk, the White House’s Middle East adviser, and Abram Paley, its Iran envoy, while Iran was represented by Ali Bagheri, the deputy foreign minister and top nuclear negotiator.

The United States, according to the report, seeks to convey to Iran what it needs to do to “prevent a wider conflict,” officials familiar with the matter said. A second round of negotiations was scheduled for February but postponed due to McGurk’s involvement in brokering an Israel-Hamas agreement, it continued.

Since Hama’s Oct. 7 assault on Israel, Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, Yemen’s Houthis, and Iraqi militias have intensified attacks on U.S. naval vessels and merchant shipping, as well as on American forces in Iraq and Syria.

The United States has accused Tehran of supplying the Houthis with drones, missiles and intelligence for their Red Sea attacks, although Iran maintains the rebels act independently.

While the ultimate goal for Iran is to drive American forces out of Iraq and Syria, Tehran has made clear it wants to avoid direct conflict with the United States or Israel. The Houthis, however, have continued attacking shipping despite U.S. and U.K. retaliatory strikes. U.S. officials acknowledge that military action alone will not deter the Houthis, and believe Iran will ultimately need to pressure the group to curb its activities.

Concerns over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran continues to advance, were also a focus of the talks, according to the report.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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