Iran warned Thursday that military action by the United States or Saudi Arabia would result in “all-out war,” as the Trump administration weighs its response after blaming Iran for crippling strikes on the kingdom’s oil infrastructure.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the remarks, insisting that the United States and its allies were seeking a peaceful resolution, while increasing pressure on Iran to curtail its activities.
In an interview with CNN, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied that Tehran was involved in the attacks and warned that retaliatory strikes risked causing significant bloodshed on Iranian soil.
“I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” Zarif said. “But we won’t blink to defend our territory.”
After a two-hour discussion with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi, Pompeo said the whole region knows that Iran was behind the attacks on Saudi Arabia.
“I think it’s abundantly clear, and there is enormous consensus in the region that we know precisely who conducted these attacks, and it’s Iran,” Pompeo told reporters. “I didn’t hear anyone in the region who doubted that for a single moment.” On Wednesday, he met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“While the foreign minister of Iran is threatening an all-out war and to fight to the last American, we are here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and peaceful resolution,” Pompeo added.
Regional tensions began escalating in May 2018, when President Trump pulled out of a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.
In recent months, those hostilities have spilled into open violence. The Trump administration accuses Iran of using proxy forces to target Washington’s allies where they are most vulnerable: focusing on Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure and Western-linked ships transiting the Persian Gulf and neighboring waters.
The attacks on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities initially cut the kingdom’s production in half and caused a spike in global oil prices.
Both Washington and Riyadh have presented physical evidence and other details that they said bolstered their assertions of direct Iranian culpability.
But as tensions simmer, Trump himself has sent mixed signals over Washington’s willingness to respond with force. “There are many options. There’s the ultimate option, and there are options a lot less than that,” the president told reporters in Los Angeles, while announcing a move to increase sanctions on Iran.
Pompeo, in his remarks Thursday, said more sanctions are needed to stop Iran.
“We have set about a course of action to deny Iran the capacity and wealth and to prevent them from conducting their terror campaigns, and you can see from the events of last week there is still more work to do,” he said.
In a news conference Wednesday, a spokesman for the Saudi military, Col. Turki al-Malki, said Saturday’s attack on the Abqaiq oil processing plant in eastern Saudi Arabia had involved 18 unmanned aerial vehicles. Seven cruise missiles, he added, were fired at a facility in Khurais, the site of one of the kingdom’s largest oil fields.
These were, he said, “unquestionably sponsored by Iran.”
“This attack did not originate from Yemen, despite Iran’s best effort to make it appear so; their collaboration with their proxy in the region to create this false narrative is clear,” Malki said, basing the assertion in part on the purported range of the weapons recovered, which he said could not have traveled from Houthi-held territory.
Saudi officials have not determined the location from where the weapons were launched.
Tehran is able to rely in varying degrees on a web of proxy forces from Yemen to Lebanon and Iraq, raising the stakes of any U.S. confrontation with Iran.
In Iran, officials have described the growing hostility as a direct response to U.S. sanctions, which are crippling Iran’s economy. Zarif said sanctions relief “could change Tehran’s calculations, opening the possibility for talks.”
The Houthi rebel movement, which has been fighting a nearly five-year war against a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, also reiterated its claim that it carried out the attacks with domestically designed weaponry.
“Our forces have reached a high level of efficiency and ability. They can manufacture various types of unmanned aerial vehicles in record time,” Houthi military spokesman Yahya Saree said in a news conference late Wednesday.
The Houthi claim has been met with strong skepticism from experts and government officials, especially in light of the nature of war-torn Yemen’s economy and industrial capacity.
“The Houthis . . . announced that they launched this attack. That lacks credibility,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a French TV station on Thursday. He also called the strikes an “act of war,” although he declined to speculate who was behind it.
(c) 2019, The Washington Post · Paul Schemm, Louisa Loveluck ·