(Update: President Trump resumed his tweeting about Iran on Monday morning, writing: "Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their 'airspace' when, in fact, it was nowhere close. They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?")
(CNSNews.com) – President Trump broke his silence Sunday evening on damaging attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, saying the administration has “reason to believe that we know the culprit” and is “locked and loaded depending on verification.”
He added that the U.S. is “waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
Although the Iran-backed Shi’ite Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed to have carried out Saturday’s attacks by drone on the giant Khurais oilfield and a Saudi Aramco facility at Abqaiq, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has stated unequivocally that the U.S. believes the Iranian regime is to blame.
The Saudis have yet to publicly lay blame; dispatches by the official Saudi Press Agency quote various countries and organizations as condemning the “terrorist attacks” on the oil facilities, but with no reference to the perpetrators.
Trump’s implied threat comes almost three months after Iran’s shooting down of an unmanned U.S. Navy drone prompted the president to order a retaliatory military strike – but then call it off at the last moment, citing the risk of casualties. (Iran claimed the drone had entered Iranian airspace when it was shot down by surface-to-air missile on June 20; the Pentagon denied that.)
The kingdom said the attacks, which caused large fires and were reported to be the biggest on Saudi oil infrastructure since Saddam Hussein launched Scud missiles in 1990, compelled it to suspend the production of 5.7 million barrels of oil a day – about 50 percent of Aramco’s production.
On Twitter, the president also outlined his response to concerns about the potential impact of the attacks on the oil market.
“Based on the attack on Saudi Arabia, which may have an impact on oil prices, I have authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, in a to-be-determined amount sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied,” he tweeted. “I have also informed all appropriate agencies to expedite approvals of the oil pipelines currently in the permitting process in Texas and various other States.”
The Houthis have since 2015 been fighting a Saudi-led coalition set up in support of Yemen’s internationally-recognized government. The conflict has been costly and controversial, sparking unsuccessful attempts by U.S. lawmakers to end U.S. military support for the Saudi campaign.
In recent years the Houthis have carried out numerous missile and drone attacks on Saudi infrastructure including airports, mostly in the south of the country, but also targets further north, including pipeline pumping stations, an airport and a palace in Riyadh, and Mecca, Islam’s most holiest city.
The oil facilities struck on Saturday lie roughly 480 miles and 500 miles from the nearest Yemeni territory.
‘An unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply’
Despite the Houthis’ claim to have attacked the Saudi facilities using ten drones, Pompeo pointed to the Iranian regime.
“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while [President Hassan] Rouhani and [Foreign Minister Javad] Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy,” he tweeted Saturday. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”
“We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks,” Pompeo said, adding that the U.S. would work with partners and allies to ensure that “Iran is held accountable for its aggression.”
Iran’s foreign ministry denied the allegations, with spokesman Abbas Mousavi saying the administration, having failed in its policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran, has now adopted a policy of “maximum lies.”
Mousavi backed the Houthis’ claim of responsibility, saying the militia was “standing up to war and aggression” launched by the Saudi-led coalition.
But he also insinuated that a conspiracy was underway to lay the groundwork for war, saying the U.S. statements were akin to “planning by secret and intelligence services to tarnish the image of a country in order to set the scene for future moves.”
During the G7 summit in France last month, Trump said he was prepared to meet with Rouhani “if the circumstances were correct,” stoking speculation an encounter could take place on the sidelines of this month’s U.N. General Assembly in New York.
On Tuesday, Pompeo replied “sure” when asked if he could foresee such a meeting going ahead, adding that “the president has made very clear he is prepared to meet with no preconditions.”
White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway said Sunday the attacks in Saudi Arabia “did not help” prospects for such a meeting, but did not rule it out altogether, telling Fox News Sunday she would leave it up to Trump “to announce a meeting or a non-meeting.”
For his part, Trump tweeted on Sunday evening, “The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions.’ That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).”
‘It is important to clearly establish the facts’
Meanwhile other governments have not joined the U.S. in blaming Iran for the attacks.
The European Union expressed sympathy to the Saudi government and people, but did not assign blame.
“It is important to clearly establish the facts and determine responsibility for this deplorable attack,” a spokesperson said, repeating an E.U. appeal “for maximum restraint and de-escalation.”
Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) foreign ministers, who were meeting in Jeddah for a meeting focused on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressed support for the kingdom in the face of what they called “aggression designed to destabilize Saudi Arabia,” but did not say who they thought was responsible.
Britain’s Foreign Office in a statement noted the Houthi’s claim of responsibility and called on the group “to immediately cease such attacks.”
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab later tweeted that he’d spoken to Pompeo about the attack, which he described as “a reckless attempt to damage regional security and disrupt global oil supplies.”