US asked Iran to help stop Houthi attacks during secret talks in January: Report

Quds Force chief told Iran-backed Iraqi militias to “manage their behavior in a way that will not allow America to engage Iran.”

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Senior American and Iranian diplomats met secretly in Oman earlier this year as Washington tried to seek Tehran’s help in stopping Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, according to a report published on Wednesday.

The top Middle East official at the White House and the State Department’s Iran envoy reportedly headed the US delegation that met with an Iranian team, which Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani led.

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According to the Financial Times, which cited unnamed US and Iranian officials, the talks were indirect, with Omani officials relaying messages between the two camps.

During the indirect talks, American officials also sounded the alarm over Iran’s expanding nuclear program.

This first round of talks was held in January, with a second scheduled for February. But those talks never materialized as the White House official, Brett McGurk, has been consumed with trying to broker a ceasefire deal in return for the release of Israeli hostages.

A US official told Al Arabiya English that Washington had many channels for passing messages to Iran.

“We aren’t going to comment on any details of our communications with Iran, other than to say that since Oct. 7, all of them have been focused on raising the full range of threats emanating from Iran and the need for Iran to cease its across-the-board-escalation,” the official said.

As for Iranian sway over the Houthis, an Iranian official was quoted as telling the FT that “Iran has repeatedly said it only has a form of spiritual influence [over the rebels]. They can’t dictate to the Houthis, but they can negotiate and talk.”

Iranian weapons intended for the Houthis have been interdicted on several occasions by US and European militaries. Iran claims it is not involved.

The Iranian official also told the FT that the IRGC’s Quds Force commander, Esmail Qaani, went to Baghdad last month, a trip that has been widely reported.

During that trip, however, Qaani told Iran-backed Iraqi militias to “manage their behavior in a way that will not allow America to engage Iran,” according to the Iranian official.

Read more: America’s next long-term conflict: The campaign to deter Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis

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