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Iran Rejects U.S. Accusation It Is Behind Saudi Attacks

Iran on Sunday forcefully rejected charges by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it was responsible for drone attacks that caused serious damage to two crucial Saudi Arabian oil installations, with the foreign minister dismissing the remarks as “max deceit.”

The attacks on Saturday, which hold the potential to disrupt global oil supplies, were claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen. Mr. Pompeo said that Iran had launched “an unprecedented attack on the world’s oil supply,” although he did not offer any evidence and stopped short of saying that Iran had carried out the missile strikes.

The Houthis are part of a complex regional dynamic in the Middle East, receiving support from Iran while the Saudis, Tehran’s chief rival for supremacy in the region and the leader of a coalition that is fighting the Houthis in Yemen, are aligned with the United States.

Seyed Abbas Mousavi, a spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, castigated the Saudis for their role in the war in Yemen, where the Saudis have directed airstrikes that have caused heavy civilian casualties and exacerbated a humanitarian crisis. He also ridiculed Mr. Pompeo’s comments.

The semiofficial Fars news agency reported on its English-language website that Mr. Mousavi described Mr. Pompeo’s allegations as “blind and fruitless remarks” that were “meaningless” in a diplomatic context.

Saudi Arabia has yet to publicly accuse Iran of involvement in the attack. On Sunday, its Foreign Ministry urged international action to preserve the world oil supply in response to the attack, but it said nothing about assigning blame or striking back.

The developments come at a moment of rising tensions between Iran and the United States, which have mounted since President Trump pulled out of the 2015 accord in which Iran agreed with the West to restrict its nuclear program. Since the American withdrawal, Iran has gradually pulled away from its some obligations under the agreement.

The United States is now trying to impose “maximum pressure” against Iran, a campaign of sanctions that have heaped additional pressure on Iran’s struggling economy and moves to isolate the country diplomatically in order to force it back to the negotiating table for a new nuclear deal.

Mr. Zarif, writing on Twitter, mocked Mr. Pompeo, saying the United States had failed in its campaign of “maximum pressure” and were now “turning to ‘max deceit.’”

The Trump administration has said that any attack on American interests from Iran would bring a military response, but it has not made clear whether an attack on the Saudi oil infrastructure would meet that threshold.

A senior commander for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps took a more strident tone than the Foreign Ministry, insisting that Iran was ready for “full-fledged” war, the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported, according to Reuters.

“Everybody should know that all American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kilometers around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Revolutionary Guards’ air force.

Mr. Pompeo issued his response on Twitter late Saturday, specifically taking aim at the president of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, and its foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, accusing them of pretending to engage in diplomacy while directing numerous attacks.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Mr. Pompeo wrote. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

The missile that hit the Saudi facilities struck 500 miles from Yemeni territory, but officials there and in the United States believe Iran has trained the Houthis to use drone and missile technology.

“US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory,” Mr. Zarif wrote on Twitter. “Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ’15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.

The attack on Saturday, which the Houthis said involved 10 drones, represented the rebels’ most serious strike since Saudi Arabia inserted itself into the conflict in Yemen four years ago. That the rebels could cause such extensive damage to such a crucial part of the global economy astonished some observers.

“So while everyone is wrestling w/securing the Strait of Hormuz the Houthis (!) w/10 drones (!!) successfully attacked the single most important facility in the global oil economy,” Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington wrote on Twitter. “Unbelievable.”

It extent of the damage to the oil facilities remained unclear on Sunday, but Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant that runs the sites, said on Saturday that production of well over half of the nation’s daily output had been put on hold.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry, in a statement on Twitter, confirmed that several explosions had forced the temporary suspension of operations at the Abqaiq and Khurais plants.

The attacks pose a threat to the global economy, the statement said, citing the energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, a son of King Salman who was recently appointed to the position.

The ministry added that part of the decline would be offset by oil deposits, and said that there would be no effect on local supplies and that no workers had been injured.

Any extended closure would most likely bring serious consequences to the world’s oil supply, and the United States Energy Department said that it would use its strategic oil reserves if necessary to offset any disruption.

Energy experts said that the attack on the Abqaiq facility represented their worst nightmare, and that it was perhaps worse than Iran blocking the Strait or Hormuz, a crucial path for the distribution of oil supplies.

“If there is a single crown jewel, this is it,” said Robert McNally, a former White House energy adviser who is now the president of the Rapidan Energy Group, a market research firm.

Abqaiq is a massive oil processing facility — the largest of its kind in the world — in eastern Saudi Arabia; it makes crude suitable for export.

The attacks not only shut down the processing plant, but also disrupted flows from the oil fields that feed into it. Further complicating matters, the plant was built with custom-made equipment that may be difficult to fix quickly if there is serious damage, because run-of-the-mill parts cannot be used to get the plant up and running.

The attacks have raised the question of the potential effect on both oil prices and Aramco’s plans for an initial public offering of stock.

The Eurasia Group, a consulting firm that specializes in political risk analysis, said in an assessment on Saturday that the scale of the attack would “encourage markets to re-examine the need for considering an oil geopolitical risk premium.”

That would most likely play out as an increase of $ 2 to $ 3 per barrel if the issues can be resolved quickly, but as much as $ 10 if the attack causes larger problems. Oil is currently trading around $ 60 a barrel for Brent crude, the international benchmark.

Aramco’s plans to go public are likely to be unaffected, the group said, though there may be some consequences down the line. The crown prince, who is seeking to raise money to pay for a sweeping economic overhaul, is unlikely to back off on his plan to sell Aramco shares, the group said, but enthusiasm from international investors might be diminished.

It is not yet clear whether the drones that hit the Saudi oil facilities came from Yemen or another country, or even within Saudi Arabia. The Houthis have acquired drones that could have a range of up to 930 miles, according to United Nations investigators, which has muddled the question of the point of origin of the attacks.

There had been speculation that the drones were launched from Iraq, but the office of the Iraqi prime minister, Adel Abdul-Mahdi, rejected that theory on Sunday. The prime minister’s office said in a statement that Iraq would act firmly if its territory were used to attack other countries.

“We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks,” Mr. Pompeo wrote. “The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”

Source: NYT > World News

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