Friday, 20 September 2019 05:44

Pompeo: 'Important Information' for Trump After Mideast Talks on Saudi Oil Field Attacks

Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine, and VOA Persian's Katherine Ahn and Gabriele Barbati contributed to this report.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday he has "important information" for President Donald Trump about how to respond to the recent attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities after meeting with leaders in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The top U.S. diplomat said there was "enormous consensus" that Iran was responsible for the middle-of-the-night missile and drone attacks last weekend that at least temporarily knocked out half of the Saudis' oil production, nearly 6% of the global oil supply.

But he did not hint at how the U.S. might respond.

Pompeo, after meeting with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, told reporters in Dubai, "We are still striving to build out a coalition in an act of diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war and to fight to the last American, we're here to build up a coalition aimed at achieving peace."

"We'd like a peaceful resolution," he said. "I hope the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way."

Pompeo's remarks came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told CNN that any U.S. or Saudi military strike against Iran would result in an "all-out war."

"I am making a very serious statement that we don't want war; we don't want to engage in a military confrontation ... But we won't blink to defend our territory," Zarif said. Iran has denied carrying out the attack in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier, Zarif, writing on Twitter, cited a group he called the "B team" -- U.S. officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- that he sees as intent on driving a war against Iran. He said they are trying to "deceive" Trump into launching war against Iran.

"For their own sake, they should pray that they won't get what they seek," Zarif said.

After meeting Wednesday with Saudi officials, Pompeo said, "The U.S. stands with Saudi Arabia and supports its right to defend itself. The Iranian regime's threatening behavior will not be tolerated."

Pompeo has been the most definitive among Trump administration officials in placing the blame on Iran. He told reporters traveling with him, "This was an Iranian attack," and he dismissed claims of responsibility made by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The U.S. Defense Department said that "all indications we have are that Iran is in some way responsible for the attack on the Saudi refineries," but that it was waiting to make a definitive judgment until its assessment with the Saudis of "what took place" was completed.

A spokesman said forensics teams were still investigating evidence found at the scene of the attacks at the Abqaiq oil-processing operations and at the Khurais oil field.

Trump has offered mixed signals about how the U.S. could react, saying Wednesday, "There are many options. There's the ultimate option [which he said was war], and there are options a lot less than that. We're in a very strong position," he told reporters.

Trump's statement came hours after he said he was "substantially" increasing existing economic sanctions against Iran in the wake of the oil field attacks, with details to come soon. U.S. officials believe the current sanctions have already hobbled the Iranian economy.

In an interview with VOA Persian, U.S. Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, a Republican member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he viewed Saudi Arabia’s dispute with Iran as “much more their fight than it is America's fight.” He said Washington already spends a lot of energy, time and capital on diplomacy and military hardware for its regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, which he said was “capable of responding to this appropriately.”

“But increased U.S. sanctions and diplomatic actions are wholly appropriate for our allies in the region that are under attack, and that is how we can support them in a direct way,” Perry added.

Middle East Institute security analyst Bilal Saab told VOA Persian in an interview that the Trump administration does not appear to want an all-out war with Iran but also wants to re-establish deterrence in the region.

"To balance between these two (goals) will be a challenge," Saab said. "In order to send a message to the Iranians not to do this again, and at the same time manage the situation and control escalation, I think covert options should be on the table."

At a news conference Wednesday, Saudi officials displayed what they said were remnants of 25 unmanned Iranian Delta Wing drones and "Ya-Ali" cruise missiles they have retrieved from the oil facilities that were attacked.

"The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran. The evidence ... that you have seen in front of you, makes this undeniable," Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said.

Shortly after the attacks last Saturday, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility and reiterated their claim on Wednesday. A Houthi spokesman also threatened to target the UAE for its support of the Saudi-led operations inside Yemen.

"One operation will cost you a lot," the Houthi spokesman vowed.

U.S. and Saudi officials say the available evidence shows it is not possible that oil field attacks were launched from Yemen.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Yemenis carried out the attack as a "warning" to Saudi Arabia over its involvement leading a coalition fighting the Houthis. Human rights groups have criticized Saudi-led airstrikes for devastating civilian areas and worsening what is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Rouhani said the Yemenis "did not hit hospitals, they did not hit schools or the Sanaa bazaar," and that the Saudis should "learn the lesson from this warning."

(VOA)

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