US building coalition after Saudi oil attack, Iran warns against war

An America flag flies near the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, on Aug 14, 2019, in New York City.
An America flag flies near the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island, on Aug 14, 2019, in New York City.PHOTO: AFP

DUBAI (REUTERS) - The United States said on Thursday (Sept 19) that it was building a coalition to deter Iranian threats following a weekend attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

Iran has warned US President Donald Trump against being dragged into a war in the Middle East and said it would meet any offensive action with a crushing response.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Mr Trump, who has ordered more sanctions on Iran, wants a peaceful solution to the crisis.

He was speaking after talks with Saudi and Emirati leaders over the strike that Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Teheran.

Iran denies involvement in the Sept 14 attack that initially halved Saudi oil output and which Mr Pompeo earlier called an "act of war" against the world's largest oil exporter.

Mr Pompeo appeared to soften his tone on Thursday after talks with Abu Dhabi's crown prince, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, which is Riyadh's main Arab ally.

"We are here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution. That's my mission, that's what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it that way," Mr Pompeo told reporters.

He did not provide details about the coalition. The US has however been trying to create a global maritime security alliance since attacks on oil tankers in Gulf waters, which Washington also blamed on Iran.

The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Britain and Bahrain have said they will participate. Iraq said it would not join, and most European countries have been reluctant to sign up for fear of stoking regional tensions.

Mr Pompeo described his proposed coalition as "an act of diplomacy", while Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told CNN on Thursday that the Islamic Republic "won't blink" if it has to defend itself against any US or Saudi military strike, which he said would lead to "all-out war".

Later on Friday, Mr Zarif called Kuwait's foreign minister Sheikh Sabah al Khalid Al Sabah, and the two discussed measures to de-escalate tensions in the region, state news agency KUNA reported.

'B TEAM'

Mr Zarif mocked Mr Pompeo, saying he was part of a so-called "B-team", along with Saudi Arabia's crown prince, which is trying to dupe Mr Trump into opting for war.

Mr Pompeo on Wednesday met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has called the assault on oil plants a "test of global will".

 
 
 
 

Riyadh has displayed what it described as remnants of 25 Iranian drones and missiles used in the strike, saying it was evidence of Iranian aggression.

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday that the attacks were an "extension of the Iranian regime's hostile and outlawed behaviour" and called on the international community to "shoulder its responsibilities and take a firm stance towards Iran's criminal behaviour".

"Complacency with the Iranian regime will only encourage it to commit more acts of terrorism and sabotage in our region and around the world," Mr Jubeir tweeted.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged all countries in the Gulf to sit down for talks to defuse tensions and said groundless accusations against Iran over the attacks were inflaming tensions, Interfax news agency reported.

Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which is battling a Saudi-led military coalition, claimed responsibility for the assault on two Saudi oil plants, including the world's largest processing facility. US and Saudi officials rejected the claim, saying the attack had not come from the south.

Oil prices, which soared following the attack, steadied after Saudi Arabia pledged to restore full oil production by the end of September.

UN MEETING IN FOCUS

Proof of Iranian responsibility could provoke a response from Riyadh and Washington, which want to curb Iranian influence in the region.

Mr Pompeo said the attacks would be a major focus of next week's annual UN General Assembly meeting and suggested Riyadh could make its case there.

The US issued visas allowing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Mr Zarif to travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, Iranian UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi confirmed to Reuters.

Mr Zarif is to leave for New York on Friday to attend the General Assembly, the ministry spokesman tweeted on Thursday, after earlier reports of a US delay in issuing a visa for the visit.

Teheran says the US accusations are part of Washington's "maximum pressure" policy on Iran to force it to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which Mr Trump exited last year, reimposing sanctions to choke off Iran's oil exports.

Teheran, which has gradually scaled back its nuclear commitments, has rejected any talks unless sanctions are lifted.

"The United States is now using oil as a weapon; oil is not a weapon," Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said.