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Iran is not directing Houthis or other groups to launch attacks, says Iran’s U.N. envoy

Iran is not directing Houthis or other groups to launch attacks, says Iran’s U.N. envoy

Iran is not providing weapons to Houthi forces in Yemen and does not exert control over the militants or other armed groups in the region that are launching attacks on the U.S. and Israel, Iran’s U.N. ambassador told NBC News’ Lester Holt in an interview.

Asked whether Iran is arming Houthi militants who have unleashed dozens of drone and missile attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in recent months, Amir Saeid Iravani said: “Not at all.”

He added that the Houthis “have their own weapons” and that Iran does not issue instructions about how they should use them.

Describing Iran’s relationship with armed groups that Tehran calls the “Axis of Resistance,” Iravani said his government has something akin to a “defense pact” with the groups that he compared to the NATO alliance.

“We are not directing them. We are not commanding them. We have a common consultation with each other,” Iravani said.

But he said Iran does arm Hamas and other Palestinian militants, though those groups make their decisions, as well. 

He said Iran played no part in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people, many of them civilians. 

“We have not participated in this decision. It was the Palestinian decision and the Palestinian implementation. We have … no role in this case,” he said.

The U.S. and other governments have long accused Iran of arming, training and financing a network of proxies in Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, Iraq, Syria and Yemen, citing recovered weapons manufactured in Iran and the presence of advisers from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The Defense Intelligence Agency said Tuesday an analysis of publicly available images shows the Houthis are using Iranian-made ballistic missiles and drones to target commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Iravani said that Iran wanted to “calm the situation” in the Middle East and that the best path to lowering tensions was to forge a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

“We don’t want crisis in this region,” he said.

But he said that Iran would not be cowed by threats from the U.S. and that it was prepared to defend itself if necessary.

“I think that the language of threat will not work against Iran. The language of cooperation and respect will work against Iran,” he said. “If you think that Iran has fear from the threats, you are absolutely wrong.”

If the U.S. attacks “Iran’s soil … or Iran individuals all around the world … we will defend, absolutely.”

Iravani said Iran and the U.S. have “always” had ways to communicate through intermediaries even though the two countries have no formal diplomatic relations. Indirect negotiations last year secured a prisoner exchange and the release of funds frozen by sanctions, but talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear agreement were unsuccessful, he said.

“It is difficult to, again, resume those failed discussions,” he said.

Holt asked whether Iran could halt the Houthis’ attacks in the Red Sea with a phone call, and Iravani said that was not possible, as Tehran did not have authority over the group. He said Iran was ready to encourage the Houthis to halt their attacks if, at the same time, Israel pulled back from Gaza and lifted restrictions on aid deliveries.

Iravani said Houthi forces had never been “involved” in the Red Sea until after Israel launched an offensive against Hamas in Gaza. He called the Israeli campaign in the Palestinian enclave an “aggression” and said the Houthis were targeting only ships ferrying cargo to and from Israel, because Palestinians were facing restrictions on food and fuel flowing into Gaza. 

However, private shipping companies, the U.S. and other governments say the Houthis have attacked an array of cargo ships without any commercial links to Israel.

Earlier Tuesday, Houthi forces in Yemen fired six anti-ship ballistic missiles at two different commercial cargo ships transiting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, a defense official told NBC News. Three of the missiles targeted MV Star Nasia, a bulk carrier vessel operating in the Gulf of Aden, inflicting minor damage and no injuries. The ship had recently visited a port in Egypt and is bound for India, according to publicly available maritime data. Three other missiles fired toward a second cargo ship in the southern Red Sea hit the water nearby without effect, the defense official said.

Dan De Luce

Dan De Luce is a reporter for the NBC News Investigative Unit. 

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