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Pompeo Calls Attacks on Saudi Arabia ‘Act of War’ as Trump Tightens Iran Sanctions

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran on Wednesday of having carried out an “act of war” with aerial strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia last weekend, and he said the United States was working to build a coalition to deter further attacks.

Mr. Pompeo’s words were the strongest so far from any American official regarding the attack on Saturday in Saudi Arabia, which severely impaired production at the leading oil exporter and raised fears that tensions between Iran and the United States could escalate into a new war.

Despite Mr. Pompeo’s statement, President Trump pushed back against another American military entanglement in the Middle East, speaking only of unspecified new sanctions on Iran.

Asked about a possible American attack on Iran, Mr. Trump told reporters in Los Angeles: “There are many options. There’s the ultimate option and there are options a lot less than that.”

In Saudi Arabia, military officials displayed what they described as physical evidence that Iran had been responsible for the attack, but did not specify how they intended to respond or what they expected from their American allies.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, have said they were responsible for the attack. Iran, a strong ally of the Houthis, has denied any responsibility. American and Saudi officials have said the Houthis had neither the sophistication nor the weapons to have carried it out.

“This was an Iranian attack,” Mr. Pompeo said. “We were blessed there were no Americans killed in this attack, but anytime you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always a risk that could happen.”

Mr. Pompeo spoke to reporters at the end of a flight to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he met with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto leader of the country, to discuss the intelligence on the attack and actions. Mr. Pompeo also planned to visit the United Arab Emirates on this emergency trip before returning to Washington.

“That’s my mission here, is to work with our partners in the region,” he said. “We will be working with our European partners as well.”

“We’re working to build out a coalition to develop a plan to deter them,” Mr. Pompeo added. “We want to work to make sure infrastructure and resources are put in place such that attacks like this would be less successful than this one appears to have been.”

He dismissed the claim by the Houthis that they had attacked the oil facilities. “The intelligence community has high confidence that these were not weapons that would have been in the possession of the Houthis,” Mr. Pompeo said. “As for how we know, the equipment used is unknown to be in the Houthis’ arsenal.”

Earlier at a news conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, the Saudi Defense Ministry showed what it described as debris from the attack site and videos that appeared to be from surveillance cameras on the ground.

“This attack was launched from the north, and was unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” said Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for ministry.

He said Saudi officials were still trying to determine exactly where the strikes had originated.

The French government announced that President Emmanuel Macron promised in a telephone call on Tuesday with Prince Mohammed that French experts would go to Saudi Arabia to assist in the investigation, at the request of the Saudis.

In Iran, state media reported Wednesday that American obstruction might force President Hassan Rouhani to miss the annual United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.

The attack on Saturday, which Saudi officials said involved some two dozen drones and cruise missiles, temporarily cut Saudi oil processing in half, shaking global markets and worsening the tensions between the United States and Iran that have prevailed since Mr. Trump took office.

Mr. Trump has already imposed punishing economic sanctions on Iran and some of its top officials, in what the administration has described as a “maximum pressure” campaign to force Iran to negotiate new limits on its nuclear program and stop its sponsorship of militant groups across the Middle East.

On Wednesday morning, he wrote on Twitter that he had told the Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, “to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran.” It was not immediately clear how extensive the latest round of penalties would be, but Mr. Trump said later that details would be released within 48 hours.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif of Iran responded to the announcement on Twitter, writing that Mr. Trump was “escalating U.S. economic war on Iranians.”

Iran and the Houthis have described the airstrike on Saudi Arabia as retaliation for the extensive bombing by the Saudis that has killed thousands of people in Yemen.

American and Saudi officials have said that the weekend attack clearly used Iranian weapons. The Americans have also said that evidence that has not been made public points to a strike launched from Iran, to the north, not from Yemen, to the south.

“This attack did not originate from Yemen, despite Iran’s best effort to make it appear so,” said Colonel al-Maliki, the Saudi spokesman.

He also said that 18 drones hit one site and four cruise missiles hit another, and that three missiles fell short.

On Tuesday, a senior Trump administration official said in Washington that the oil facility was struck at least 17 times, and a second facility was struck at least twice by cruise missiles.

It was not clear how the evidence shown by the Saudis indicated that the attack came from the north, or did not come from Yemen. Nor did the Saudis make it clear whether they were saying that Iran had the kind of indirect involvement, through supplying munitions and training, that it has had in previous Houthi strikes on Saudi Arabia, or something more direct, like Iranian personnel taking part or the attack’s having been launched from Iran.

The Houthis have launched missiles at Saudi targets before, but none of the attacks had the scale, sophistication or practical impact of the one on Saturday.

Mr. Trump and Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, have been expected to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly session in New York next week, and there was even speculation this summer about a possible face-to-face encounter between them.

But on Wednesday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that an Iranian advance team had been unable to go to New York to prepare for the meeting because the United States had not granted visas. As a result, it said, Mr. Rouhani and his delegation might not attend the gathering, which runs from Tuesday through the following Monday.

Mr. Pompeo declined to comment on the visa situation. Asked about it at the United Nations, Secretary General António Guterres told reporters: “We have been in contact with the host state in order to solve all outstanding visa problems in relation to delegations,” and he hoped that would “solve the problem.”

Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that he is open to a meeting with Mr. Rouhani, which would be the first between leaders of the two countries after four decades of antagonism, but Mr. Rouhani has said that Iran would not agree until the United States lifted economic sanctions.

Mr. Rouhani sent a formal note on Monday to the United States denying an Iranian role in the drone attack and warning that any American action against Iran would bring retaliation, Iranian state news media reported on Wednesday. The note went through Swiss envoys who act as go-betweens because the United States and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Last year, Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 accord limiting the scope of Iran’s nuclear program, and reimposed sanctions that had been lifted as part of the deal. This year, Mr. Trump has hit Iran and Iranian officials with new rounds of sanctions.

The main penalties seek to choke off Iran’s international oil sales, the heart of its economy. They bar any company doing business with Iran from using the American banking system, whose reach is so vast that Mr. Trump’s actions apply to many overseas businesses.

After Mr. Trump began imposing more sanctions this year, several tankers were damaged near the Persian Gulf, and Western governments said they had been sabotaged by Iran, which Tehran denied. Iran has also seized several foreign vessels in or near the Strait of Hormuz, including a British-flagged tanker it has held for two months.

Analysts have described those episodes — and, possibly, the attack on Saudi Arabia — as one prong of a two-pronged strategy to pressure other nations to provide sanctions relief, by showing that Iran can interrupt world oil supplies. The other prong, analysts say, is that Iran began exceeding the limits on its nuclear program under the 2015 deal.

Source: NYT > World News

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