Pompeo heads to Saudi Arabia after US blames Iran

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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WASHINGTON, DC, United States (AFP) — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was to fly to Saudi Arabia yesterday to discuss possible retaliation, after Washington said it had proof that attacks on Saudi oil installations originated in Iran. Vice-President Mike Pence announced that Pompeo was on his way to Saudi Arabia to “discuss our response”.

“As the president said, we don't want war with anybody, but the United States is prepared,” Pence said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

“We're locked and loaded and we're ready to defend our interests and allies in the region, make no mistake about it,” he said, echoing President Donald Trump's words on Monday.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP that the Trump Administration has concluded that last weekend's attack involved cruise missiles from Iran and that evidence would be presented at the United Nations General Assembly next week. The apparent hardening of the US position came as Iran's supreme leader ruled out negotiations with Washington “at any level”.

This appeared to nix remaining hopes for a dramatic meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations next week. Speaking to reporters on Air Force One over California, Trump said he too had cooled on what had always seemed to be a diplomatic longshot.

“I never rule anything out, but I prefer not meeting him,” Trump said. Yemen's Iranian-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for Saturday's oil installation attacks, which halved output from the petro-State, the world's biggest crude producer and a close ally of Washington. The Huthis are at war with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen, turning the impoverished nation into a proxy battlefield for bitter regional rivals Tehran and Riyadh.

The increasingly complex conflict dovetails with the Trump Administration's attempt to curb Iranian power through a “maximum pressure” campaign of crippling economic sanctions. Trump began that campaign after unilaterally pulling out of a 2015 international deal meant to reward Iran for allowing restrictions on its nuclear industry.

He says that Tehran is secretly cheating and trying to build nuclear weapons and must be stopped. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Washington's real goal was to bring his country to its knees.

“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 in a televised address. Khamenei also said that as long as sanctions are in place, direct talks are impossible, including a meeting at the UN.

“Without this, no negotiations will happen at any level between the Islamic Republic of Iran's officials and the Americans, not during the visit to New York or any other visit,” he said.

Whether the new stage of the long-running US-Iranian standoff leads to a shooting war is the big unknown. Saudi Arabia, which has bought huge quantities of US weaponry, is considered a strategic ally in the region, second to Israel, another bitter foe of Iran.

Trump called off a retaliatory US missile attack on Iran in June after the Iranians shot down a spy drone. He said he did not want to kill what generals told him could be up to 150 people. He has indicated that he may no longer feel that restraint.

“I'm not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to,” he said Monday.

“That was a very large attack, and it could be met by an attack many, many times larger.”

In Congress, Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters the United States should not be drawn into war.

“Saudi Arabia is fully capable, with the weapons we've sold them to respond in a way they think is appropriate,” he said.

But fellow Republican Lindsey Graham — a vital Trump ally in Congress — struck a more belligerent tone, charging that “such a sophisticated attack could not have occurred without Iran's blessing and direct involvement”.


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