Fri, 18 Oct 2019

Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and VOA Persian reporter Katherine Ahn contributed to this report

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif issued a warning Thursday against those who might consider attacking Iran in response to an attack on Saudi oil facilities, after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo directly blamed Iran and called what happened in Saudi Arabia "an act of war."

Zarif, writing on Twitter, cited a group he has termed the "B team" made up of U.S. officials and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he sees as intent on driving a war against Iran. He said they are trying to "deceive" U.S. President Donald Trump into launching such a conflict.

"For their own sake, they should pray that they won't get what they seek," Zarif said Thursday. "They're still paying for much smaller Yemen war they were too arrogant to end 4yrs ago."

US stance

Pompeo is in Abu Dhabi for continued talks Thursday about the response to the attacks that at least temporarily cut the Saudis' daily oil production by 5.7 million barrels, nearly 6% of the global oil supply.

"The U.S. stands with Saudi Arabia and supports its right to defend itself. The Iranian regime's threatening behavior will not be tolerated," Pompeo said, after meeting Wednesday with Saudi officials.

He has been the most declarative among Trump administration officials in placing the blame on Iran. Pompeo told reporters traveling with him, "This was an Iranian attack," and dismissed claims of responsibility made by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Trump said Wednesday the United States has "many options" in addition to military strikes to respond to Iran.

"We're in a very strong position," Trump told reporters on an airport tarmac in California as he headed to a political fundraiser.

Trump's statement came hours after he said he is "substantially" increasing economic sanctions against Iran in the wake of the oil field attacks that Washington says were launched by Tehran.

Additional Iran sanctions

Trump, on Twitter, said he had directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to stiffen existing sanctions against Iran that American officials say have already hobbled its economy, but gave no details of the new penalties. Trump said the specifics of the sanctions would be announced within 48 hours.

The Trump administration does not appear to want an all-out war with Iran but also wants to re-establish deterrence in the region, Middle East Institute security analyst Bilal Saab told VOA Persian in an interview.

"To balance between these two (goals) will be a challenge," Saab said. "In order to send a message to the Iranians not to do this again, and at the same time manage the situation and control escalation, I think covert options should be on the table."

At a news conference, Saudi officials displayed what they said were remnants of 25 unmanned Iranian Delta Wing drones and "Ya-Ali" cruise missiles they have retrieved from the oil facilities that were attacked.

"The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran. The evidence ... that you have seen in front of you, makes this undeniable," Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki said.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency reported Wednesday that the government sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. denying involvement in the Saudi oil field attacks and warned that if any actions are taken against Iran, it will respond immediately.

Houthi rebels claim responsibility

Shortly after the middle-of-the-night attacks last Saturday, Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility and reiterated their claim on Wednesday. A Houthi spokesman also threatened to target the United Arab Emirates for its support of the Saudi-led operations inside Yemen.

"One operation will cost you a lot," the Houthi spokesman vowed.

But U.S. and Saudi officials say the available evidence shows it is not possible that oil field attacks were launched from Yemen.

"Our working assumption is that this did not come from Yemen or Iraq," a U.S. defense official told VOA Tuesday, adding that a U.S. forensic team is on the ground working with the Saudis to examine the remnants of the missiles.

"We think that evidence will be compelling," the official added.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Yemenis carried out the attack as a "warning" to Saudi Arabia over its involvement leading a coalition fighting the Houthis. Human rights groups have criticized Saudi-led airstrikes for devastating civilian areas and worsening what is one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Rouhani said the Yemenis "did not hit hospitals, they did not hit schools or the Sanaa bazaar," and that the Saudis should "learn the lesson from this warning."

Sign up for UAE News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!