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Iran denies Houthi missile deliveries: 'We only send them cheesy puffs'

Zarif denies arming the Houthi rebels [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 April, 2018

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Iran's foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif claimed Iran does not supply bombs to Yemen's Houthi rebels and exports items as militarily insignificant as cheese puffs instead.

Iran’s foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has denied Iran gives missiles to Yemeni rebels suggesting his country instead exported less explosive items like "cheese puffs" to the war-torn country.

Iran has for long been accused by Saudi Arabia and its allies of arming Yemen’s Houthi rebels against the internationally recognised government.

Though Tehran supports the Shia rebel group, it firmly denies giving them missiles. 

During a visit to New York, the Iranian diplomat accused US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley of displaying fabricated evidence that missiles lobbed by the Houthis at targets in Saudi Arabia had originated in Iran.

Haley had earlier this year invited journalists and UN Security Council diplomats to inspect missile parts recovered after strikes on Saudi Arabia, bearing what US military officials said were Iranian markings and characteristics.

However, Zarif, in an Associated Press interview, said that one such logo was from the Standard Institute of Iran, which he said regulates consumer goods such as crisps - not weapons.

"It's a sign of quality," Zarif said. "When people want to buy it, they look at whether it's been tested by the Standard Institute of Iran that your cheese puffs are good, your cheese puffs will not give you a stomach ache."

He laughed and added, "I mean, nobody will put the logo of the Standard Institute of Iran on a piece of missile."

Zarif also pointed to a truck-size section of a missile that the US said was recovered in Saudi Arabia and was transferred to a military base near Washington, where it was on display behind Haley for a photo-op. Zarif noted that the missile had been supposedly shot down in mid-air.

"I'm not saying Ambassador Haley is fabricating, but somebody is fabricating the evidence she is showing," Zarif said.

Some of the fragments Haley presented, if authentic, would seem to implicate Iran's military industry more directly, including some with the logo of Shahid Bakeri Industrial Group, an Iranian defence entity under US sanctions.

Haley said others had clear "Iranian missile fingerprints," such as short-range ballistic missiles that lacked large stabilisers - a feature she said only Iran's Qiam missiles have.

"Just imagine if this missile had been launched at Dulles Airport or JFK, or the airports in Paris, London or Berlin," Haley told reporters late last year. "That's what we're talking about here."

There's broad agreement among the United Nations, Western countries and the Gulf's Arab leaders that Iran has armed the Houthis with ballistic missiles, even though UN Security Council resolutions prohibit it.

A Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen's civil war has been bombing the Houthis, who control the capital Sanaa and much of northern Yemen.

Yet Iran's opponents have struggled to provide foolproof evidence to back up their claims, creating an opening for Iran to deny. After Haley's presentations at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, some national security experts raised questions, even drawing parallels to Secretary of State Colin Powell's 2003 speech to the UN making the case for the Iraq War.

The fragments Haley presented were turned over to the US by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates - two of Iran's fiercest critics - and US military officials had trouble tracing the fragments' chain of custody.

Nor could they say when the weapons were transferred to the Houthis or in some cases precisely when they were launched.

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