DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran will allow the United Nations to inspect a Yemen-bound aid ship at the regional U.N. hub in Djibouti, Tehran's deputy foreign minister was quoted as saying on Wednesday, offering a chance to avert a showdown with Saudi-led forces.
Earlier in the day, the Iran Shahed's captain had said the ship was due to enter the Bab al-Mandeb strait linking the Gulf of Aden to the Red Sea, bypassing Djibouti on the Horn of Africa and heading for the Yemeni port of Hodaida.
"We have decided to dock our ship in Djibouti so the United Nations inspection protocol can take place," Hossein Amir Abdollahian was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
Iran backs the dominant Houthi militia in Yemen's civil war while Saudi Arabia, Tehran's regional arch-rival, sees the Houthis as a threat and is leading air strikes on them to try to roll back their advances and reinstate Yemen's exiled president.
Iran has said the ship is carrying humanitarian aid for Yemeni civilians. Hodaida's port is under Houthi control.
The Saudi-led coalition controls the waters around Yemen and has enforced inspections on all shipments entering the country. It was not clear whether Saudi forces would allow the Iran Shahed to dock in Yemen even after a U.N. inspection.
Abdollahian said Iran would send a flight to Djibouti on Thursday, also containing aid for Yemen, in a further signal that Tehran might begin to channel all aid through the U.N. hub.
The Saudi-led coalition blocked Tehran's previous attempts to fly aid directly into Yemen's capital Sanaa, on one occasion bombing the runway to prevent an Iranian flight from landing.
(Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)