It's not often that a U.S. official defends Iran at an international forum. But U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman did just that at the sixth annual Manama Dialogue, a regional security conference organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies held in Bahrain on Dec. 11-13.
Feltman deflected charges by the Yemeni and Saudi governments that Iran was providing military assistance to Houthi rebels operating along the Yemeni-Saudi border. Meanwhile, at the same conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki provided the most detailed counteroffer to date from Tehran regarding proposals that Iran exchange its low enriched uranium for nuclear fuel for Tehran's main research reactor. Like Feltman's statement, the remarks, though far from a breakthrough, reflect the shared interests and mutual suspicions that continue to characterize U.S.-Iranian relations.
Feltman told the conference attendees that although the U.S. has heard "theories" from its "friends and partners" of Iranian support to the Houthis, "To be frank, we don't have independent information about this." Feltman instead urged an end to "this fighting as quickly as possible," citing humanitarian considerations as well as the need to avert an escalation of regional tensions.