Trump says Iran appears responsible for Saudi attack
President Donald Trump said Iran appeared to be responsible for a strike against Saudi Arabian oil facilities that knocked out more than half the kingdom’s production, as the Pentagon revealed that it was working with US partners on a response.
Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen claimed responsibility for the weekend attack, which caused oil prices to spike as much as 20 per cent to above $71 a barrel on Monday — the biggest rise in percentage terms since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Following a briefing from his military and intelligence advisers at the White House on Monday, Mr Trump was asked whether Iran was to blame for the attack. He said: “Well, it’s looking that way . . . That’s being checked out right now.”
He said that while he did not want war with Iran, the US was “more prepared” for a military conflict than at any point in its history. “With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid it,” Mr Trump said.
Mark Esper, US defence secretary, said the Pentagon was formulating a response with other parts of the government after the White House meeting.
He added that the military was “working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran”.
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, on Saturday said Iran was responsible. Earlier on Monday, Mr Trump said the US was ready to respond once his national security team had made a final determination.
“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification,” Mr Trump said on Monday morning.
Colonel Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen’s civil war, said preliminary results of the investigation into the attacks showed that the weapons were Iranian.
“We are currently working to determine the location . . . The terrorist attack did not originate from Yemen as the Houthi militia claimed,” Col Maliki told reporters in Riyadh.
Riyadh, which has long accused Tehran of smuggling weapons to the Houthis, has not yet directly blamed the Islamic republic for the attacks.
Four people briefed on the damage assessments told the FT that Saudi Arabia’s oil production could take months to return to normal. The attack was on Abqaiq, a crude processing centre south-west of Saudi Aramco’s headquarters in Dhahran that prepares almost 70 per cent of the kingdom’s crude for export.
The price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, settled 14.6 per cent higher at $69.02 a barrel in New York on Monday, while West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, rose 14.7 per cent, to $62.90 a barrel.
Foreign policy experts were divided over whether Mr Trump would respond with a strike on Iran — partly because of his apparent aversion to military action and also because he has been trying to arrange a meeting with Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, when the two leaders attend the UN General Assembly next week in New York.
In June, Mr Trump abruptly called off a military strike on Iran that had been intended as a response to the alleged shooting down of an unmanned US drone by Iran. Explaining his decision at the time, Mr Trump said it showed that he was neither a “warmonger” nor a “dove”, but rather “a man with common sense.”
Despite a series of attacks in recent months that the US has blamed on Iran, Mr Trump has continued to push for a meeting with Mr Rouhani. Iran has shown no sign of willingness to meet unless the US removes sanctions.
European powers on Monday were reluctant to blame Iran, saying they were still assessing the situation. France, Germany and the UK — three of the countries that joined with the US in signing a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 — are trying to preserve the accord after the US withdrew, and are nervous about any military action.
James Stavridis, a retired top US military commander and former dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said the attacks were almost certainly the handiwork of Iran.
“Iran is taking a page from the North Korean playbook: act out and the international community will eventually sit and negotiate. The danger here is miscalculation in a hair-trigger environment,” said Mr Stavridis.
Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said Iran “should not underestimate” US resolve.
“Any attack against US forces deployed abroad must be met with an overwhelming response — no targets are off the table,” said Mr Risch.
Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi