Trump says Iran likely behind attacks but he's averse to war

During a news conference with Bahrain's Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Tuesday at the Pentagon said 'as you can see from recent events, Iran continues to violate international norms'.
A car being refuelled at a petrol station in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah yesterday. The weekend attacks on oil plants in Saudi Arabia sent crude prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS
A car being refuelled at a petrol station in the Saudi Arabian port city of Jeddah yesterday. The weekend attacks on oil plants in Saudi Arabia sent crude prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict. PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Iran rejects US accusations; its supreme leader rules out talks with US 'at any level'

WASHINGTON/DUBAI • US President Donald Trump said it looked like Iran was behind the weekend attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, but stressed that he did not want to go to war, as the attacks sent oil prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict.

Iran has rejected US charges that it was behind the strikes last Saturday that damaged the world's biggest crude-processing plant and triggered the largest jump in crude prices in decades.

Meanwhile, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, yesterday ruled out negotiations with the US "at any level", as tensions mounted between the arch-foes after Washington blamed Teheran for the strikes.

"The policy of 'maximum pressure' against the Iranian nation is worthless and all Islamic Republic of Iran officials unanimously believe there will be no negotiations with the US at any level," he said.

A day after the attacks, the White House had said Mr Trump could meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week.

Mr Rouhani has already rejected the possibility of direct negotiations with the US unless it lifts all sanctions, and has said that even if the sanctions are lifted, any talks have to be held in the framework of the nuclear accord.

The Iranian President reiterated yesterday that if the US "repents" and returns to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, then it can talk with Iran along with other parties to the deal.

NOT GETTING INTO NEW CONFLICT

I am somebody that would like not to have war.

U.S. PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP

 
 

Relations between the US and Iran have deteriorated since Mr Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord last year and reimposed sanctions over Teheran's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Washington also wants to pressure Teheran to end its support of regional proxy forces, including in Yemen, where Saudi forces have been fighting the Iran-backed Houthis for four years.

Mr Trump said the US was ready to help - but he had not made commitments to protect - Saudi Arabia after the attacks halted more than 5 per cent of the world's oil supply and triggered a record leap in crude prices.

"I am not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to. That was a very large attack, and it could be met by an attack many, many times larger... Certainly, it would look to most like it was Iran," said Mr Trump.

"I am somebody that would like not to have war," he added.

Several US Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, have blamed Teheran for the strikes. Mr Pompeo and others will travel to Saudi Arabia soon, Mr Trump said.

Russia and China said it was wrong to jump to conclusions on who was to blame for the attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Singapore has condemned the attacks. A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said: "These attacks threaten regional stability and global energy security."

China also condemned the attacks and appealed to all sides to "refrain from taking actions that lead to an escalation of tensions in the region".

Mr Rouhani said the strikes were carried out by "Yemeni people... exercising their legitimate right of defence", retaliating against attacks by a Saudi-led military coalition in a war with the Houthi movement.

The Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels said that oil installations in Saudi Arabia remain a target. They said their weapons could reach anywhere in Saudi Arabia.

Oil prices surged by nearly 20 per cent after the incidents, but later came off their peaks. The intra-day jump was the biggest since the 1990-1991 Gulf crisis over Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia said the attacks were carried out with Iranian weapons, adding that it was capable of responding forcefully, and urging United Nations experts to help investigate the raid.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iranian threats were directed not only against the kingdom, but also the Middle East and the world. While he did not directly accuse Teheran, a Saudi Foreign Ministry statement reported him as calling on the international community to condemn whoever was behind the strike.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been enemies for decades, and are fighting a number of proxy wars.

US allies in Europe oppose Mr Trump's "maximum pressure" strategy, arguing that it provides no clear mechanism to resolve issues.

The attacks have raised questions about how Saudi Arabia, one of the world's top spenders on weaponry, much of it supplied by US companies, was unable to protect its oil plants from the attacks.

Sensing a commercial opening, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Russia was ready to help Saudi Arabia by providing Russian-made air defence systems to protect Saudi infrastructure.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 18, 2019, with the headline 'Trump says Iran likely behind attacks but he's averse to war'. Print Edition | Subscribe