US singles out Iran, readies response to Saudi oil attacks



US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of the US Central Command, shakes hands with Saudi military officers during his visit to a military base in al-Kharj in central Saudi Arabia on July 18th.  [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

The US was on Tuesday (September 17th) readying its response to the "unprecedented" attack on Saudi oil facilities that it has blamed on Iran.

A US official told AFP on Tuesday that the US has concluded the weekend attack on Saudi oil facilities was launched from Iranian soil and cruise missiles were involved.

The official, who declined to be identified, said the US was gathering evidence about the attack to present to the international community, notably European allies, at the UN General Assembly next week.

President Donald Trump said he was ready to help key ally Saudi Arabia after the weekend attacks, which triggered a record leap in global oil prices, but would await a "definitive" determination on who was responsible.


US Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of the US Central Command, and Lt. Gen. Fahd bin Turki bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, commander of the Saudi-led Arab coalition forces in Yemen, are shown by coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki reportedly Iranian weapons seized by Saudi forces from Yemen's Houthis, during a visit to a military base in al-Kharj in central Saudi Arabia on July 18th. [Fayez Nureldine/AFP]

"We have a lot of options," Trump said Monday, saying there was no rush to react and that talks with allies would come first.

"I am not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to," he said. "That was a very large attack, and it could be met by an attack many, many times larger."

US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper on Monday said the US military is preparing a response to the attack, and also singled out Iran as the likely perpetrator.

"The US military, with our interagency team, is working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran," he said in a social media post.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will "at some point" travel to Saudi Arabia, Trump said, without giving details.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday urged the international community to forge a "collective response" to the attacks.

Johnson and Merkel discussed the attacks during a telephone conversation, agreeing on "the need to work together, alongside international partners, to agree a collective response", according to Downing Street.

Origin of attack still murky

Details of the Saturday strikes on Abqaiq -- the world's largest oil processing facility -- and the Khurais oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia remained unclear, but left crude oil output by the world's top exporter slashed in half.

The Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) claimed responsibility for the attacks. But the US has said there is no evidence they were launched from Yemen.

In Riyadh, officials said the attack involved "Iranian weapons", but likewise fell short of directly accusing the Islamic Republic.

"The kingdom condemns this egregious crime, which threatens international peace and security, and affirms that the primary target of this attack are global energy supplies," the Saudi foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ministry noted that the attack was "in line with the previous attacks against Saudi Aramco pumping stations using Iranian weapons".

The Wall Street Journal on Monday reported that US officials have shared intelligence with Riyadh indicating Iran was the staging ground for the attacks.

While the US has blamed Iran, the Monday assessment on the origin of the attacks has not been shared publicly, the Journal said.

The US assessment determined that "Iran launched more than 20 drones and at least a dozen missiles", according to unnamed sources.

"But Saudi officials said the US did not provide enough to conclude that the attack was launched from Iran, indicating the US information was not definitive," the Wall Street Journal added.

"US officials said they planned to share more information with the Saudis in the coming days," the Journal said.

At a press conference in Ankara, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani claimed the attacks were an act of self-defence by the Houthis against the Saudi-led Arab coalition, which is fighting in support of the Yemeni government.

Calls for restraint

Speaking in Baghdad, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said he was "extremely concerned about a risk of escalation" and called on "all parties to prevent any such attacks occurring again".

But he likewise condemned Iran for stoking violence across the Middle East.

"Iran is supporting different terrorist groups and being responsible for destabilising the whole region," he charged.

Trump meanwhile downplayed the threat to global oil markets. The London benchmark Brent North Sea crude had its largest one-day jump ever Monday, soaring $8.80 or 14.6% to settle at $69.02 a barrel.

Trump said the economy could handle higher prices and that the US was prepared to release part of its strategic oil reserve if necessary to dampen the impact.

At a political rally in New Mexico late Monday, he said rising oil and natural gas production had made the US immune to Mideast tensions.

"A few years ago, they would have been in a panic. Today, we got a lot of oil. We got a lot of gas," he said.

In the US Congress, however, some legislators warned about opening up a new front of conflict, while US troops remain on the ground in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

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By God, I don’t care about America or those who are with America. By God, if the entire world gets together and does whatever it wants, they won’t be able to do anything to us because we’re whose main concern is to abide by the family of God’s Prophet (PBUH). You won’t intimidate or terrorise us whatever you do and regardless of the forces you mobilize. Rather, we say to you come to your death here. O, enemies of God, the Yemeni people have come to you to burn and end the thrones of the clumsy devil!