The U.S. State Department released Thursday photos of advanced missile parts believed to be linked to Iran from a boat stopped by the Navy in the Arabian Sea last month.
At a press briefing, U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook said the parts seized on November 25 are likely further proof of Tehran's efforts to inflame conflict in the region.
"We interdicted a significant hoard of weapons and missile parts evidently of Iranian origin. The seizure includes sophisticated weapons," he said, adding that the vessel was reportedly heading to Yemen to deliver the weapons.
"The weapon components comprise the most sophisticated weapons seized by the U.S. Navy to date during the Yemen conflict," Hook said.
U.S. officials said Wednesday the suspected Iranian guided missile parts were headed to rebels in Yemen, marking the first time that such sophisticated components have been taken en route to the war there.
In recent years, U.S. warships have intercepted and seized Iranian arms likely bound for Iran-aligned Houthi fighters, who control much of northern Yemen.
A Saudi-led coalition, allied with the internationally recognized government, has been fighting them since 2015. A localized cease-fire in the port of Hodeida was brokered last December by the UN but was never fully implemented. Saudi Arabia has been holding indirect talks with the Houthis in Oman, and officials have said that momentum is building in other efforts to end the war.
Under a United Nations resolution, Tehran is prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved by the Security Council. A separate UN resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to Houthi leaders.
U.S. officials said the incident illustrates the continuing illegal smuggling of weapons to Houthi rebels and comes as State Secretary Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were meeting in Portugal, with Iran as the main topic.
According to the U.S. officials, the USS Forrest Sherman was conducting routine maritime operations when sailors noticed a small wooden boat that was not displaying a country flag. The Navy and Coast Guard personnel stopped, boarded the boat for inspection and found the weapons.
Officials did not provide the exact number of missiles or parts. They said the small boat was towed into port because a leak was discovered during the inspection, and the people on the boat were transferred to the Yemeni Coast Guard.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
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