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Iran warns of ‘all-out war’ if Saudis, U.S. strike over oil industry attack

Iran warned U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday against being dragged into all-out war in the Middle East following an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities that the Washington and the Saudi kingdom blame on Iran.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the weekend strike that initially halved Saudi oil output as an act of war, and has been discussing possible retaliation with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.

Trump on Wednesday struck a cautious note, saying there were many options short of war with Iran, which denies involvement in Saturday’s strikes. He ordered more sanctions on Tehran.

Iran’s foreign minister told CNN the Islamic Republic “won’t blink” if it has to defend itself against any U.S. or Saudi military strike, which he said would lead to “all-out war.”

“I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want war; we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation … But we won’t blink to defend our territory,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said. 

Zarif earlier accused Pompeo of being part of a “B-team” that Tehran says includes Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and is trying to dupe Trump into opting for war.

Pompeo said on Wednesday the attack was “of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”

“The Saudis were the nation that were attacked. It was on their soil. It was an act of war against them directly,” he told reporters before meeting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The Saudi kingdom, which described the assault as a “test of global will,” on Wednesday displayed the remnants of 25 Iranian drones and missiles it said were used in the strike as undeniable evidence of Iranian aggression.

The Saudi ambassador to Berlin said “everything is on the table,” telling German radio that options need to be discussed carefully.

Remains of the missiles the Saudi government claims were used to attack an Aramco oil facility are displayed during a news conference on Wednesday. (Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters)

Pompeo, who arrived in the UAE from Saudi Arabia on Thursday for talks with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, welcomed the move on Twitter: “Recent events underscore the importance of protecting global commerce and freedom of navigation.”

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. U.S. and Saudi officials rejected the claim, saying the attack had not come from the south.

Fellow Gulf OPEC producer Kuwait, which said earlier this week it was investigating the detection of a drone over its territory, has put its oil sector on high alert and raised security to the highest level as a precautionary measure.

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

UN meeting in focus

Proof of Iranian responsibility and evidence that the attack was launched from Iranian territory could pressure Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia and Washington, which want to curb Iranian influence in the region, into a response. Trump has previously said he does not want war and is co-ordinating with Gulf and European states.

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.

Iran’s Zarif accused Pompeo of trying to “dodge a U.S. obligation” to issue visas for Iran’s UN delegates.

Tehran has said the U.S. accusations were part of Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy on the Islamic Republic to force Iran to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which Trump exited last year, reimposing sanctions.

France, which is trying to salvage the deal, said the New York gathering presented a chance to de-escalate tensions.

“When missiles hit another country, it is an act of war, but we have to go back to the principle of de-escalation,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. “There is an international investigation. Let’s wait for its results.”

The French army sent seven experts to Saudi Arabia to join the investigation. UN officials monitoring sanctions on Iran and Yemen are also helping probe the attack, which exposed gaps in Saudi air defences despite billions spent on Western military hardware.

U.S. efforts to bring about a UN Security Council response looked unlikely to succeed as Russia and China have veto powers and were expected to shield Iran.

Washington and its Gulf allies want Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as to put more limitations on its nuclear and missile programs.

U.S.-led coalition

The United Arab Emirates on Thursday followed its main Arab ally Saudi Arabia in announcing it was joining a global maritime security coalition that Washington has been trying to build since a series of explosions on oil tankers in Gulf waters in recent months that were also blamed on Tehran.

The state-run WAM news agency quoted Salem al-Zaabi of the Emirati Foreign Ministry as saying the UAE joined the coalition to “ensure global energy security and the continued flow of energy supplies to the global economy.”

Fire and smoke billow from Norwegian-owned Front Altair tanker, said to have been attacked in the waters of the Gulf of Oman on June 13. The incident came amid spiralling tensions between Tehran and Washington, which has pointed the finger at Iran over earlier tanker attacks in May. (ISNA via AFP/Getty Images)

Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom also are taking part.

Pompeo tweeted his appreciation for the UAE and Saudi Arabia joining the coalition.

“Recent events underscore the importance of protecting global commerce and freedom of navigation.”

Iraq’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday it would not join the international maritime mission, the Iraqi state news agency reported.

The ministry also rejected any participation by Israel in that coalition, and said security in the Gulf was the responsibility of Gulf states.

The U.S. formed the coalition after attacks on oil tankers that American officials blame on Iran, as well as Iran’s seizure of tankers in the region. Iran denies being behind the tanker explosions, though they came after Tehran threatened to stop oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

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