Archive for September 18, 2019

Iran warns US of response to any action over attack on Saudi Arabia 

September 18, 2019

Source: Iran warns US of response to any action over attack on Saudi Arabia | The Times of Israel

State-run media says Tehran’s retaliation won’t be limited to the source of the threat, without elaborating; Rouhani, Zarif may skip UN meeting since US hasn’t issued visas

In this July 21, 2019 file photo, a speedboat of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard moves around a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, which was seized by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. (Hasan Shirvani/Mizan News Agency via AP, File)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran warned the US that any action taken against it following an attack on Saudi oil installations will “immediately” be met with a response from Tehran, its state-run news agency reported Wednesday, further raising Mideast tensions.

Iran’s president and foreign minister also may skip next week’s high-level meetings at the United Nations as the US has yet to issue them visas, IRNA reported.

The UN meeting had been considered as an opportunity for direct talks between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and US President Donald Trump amid a summer of heightened tensions and attacks in the wake of America’s unilateral withdraw from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers a year ago.

However, the recent attack in Saudi Arabia and hardening comments from Iran suggest such talks are increasingly unlikely.

Iran sent a note through Swiss diplomats in Tehran on Monday, reiterating that Tehran denies being involved in the Saudi attack, IRNA reported. The Swiss have looked after American interests in Tehran for decades.

“If any action takes place against Iran, the action will be faced by Iran’s answer immediately,” IRNA quoted the note as saying. It added that Iran’s response wouldn’t be limited to the source of the threat, without elaborating.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, right, listens to his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif prior to a meeting in Tehran, Iran, November 24, 2015. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

IRNA separately reported Wednesday that Iran’s first delegation for the annual UN event had not left Iran due to not having visas. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was to travel to New York on Friday, with Rouhani following behind Monday, according to the agency.

As the host of the UN’s headquarters, the US is mandated to offer world leaders and diplomats visas to attend meetings there. But as tensions have risen, the US has put increasing restrictions on Iranians like Zarif.

The US State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is traveling to Saudi Arabia for meetings after Saturday’s attack on a Saudi oil field and the world’s largest crude oil processing plant. Saudi officials separately planned to share information about the weapons used in the attack they allege are Iranian.

Saudi Arabia also said on Wednesday that it joined a US-led coalition to secure the Mideast’s waterways amid threats from Iran after an attack targeting its crucial oil industry, while Rouhani told the kingdom it should see the attack as a warning to end its years-long war in Yemen.

Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed the attack. The US accuses Iran of being behind the assault, while Saudi Arabia already has said “Iranian weaponry” was used. Iran denies that.

Satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia, September 14, 2019. (Planet Labs Inc via AP)

“Almost certainly it’s Iranian-backed,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, told the BBC. “We are trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”

The state-run Saudi Press Agency carried a statement Wednesday morning quoting an unnamed official saying the kingdom had joined the International Maritime Security Construct.

Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom already have joined the mission.

“The kingdom’s accession to this international alliance comes in support of regional and international efforts to deter and counter threats to maritime navigation and global trade,” the news agency said.

Cmdr. Joshua Frey, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 5th Fleet, declined to comment on the Saudi announcement, saying it “would be inappropriate to comment on the status of individual nations and the nature of any potential support.”

The coalition aims to secure the broader Persian Gulf region. It includes surveillance of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world’s oil travels, and the Bab el-Mandeb, another narrow strait that connects the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden off Yemen and East Africa. Smaller patrol boats and other craft will be available for rapid response. The plan also allows for nations to escort their own ships through the region.

The US blames Iran for the apparent limpet mine explosions on four vessels in May and another two in June sailing in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz, something Iran denies being behind. Iran also seized a British-flagged oil tanker and another based in the United Arab Emirates.

US President Donald Trump listens to a reporter’s question in the Oval Office of the White House, in Washington, September 16, 2019. (Alex Brandon/AP)

In Tehran, Rouhani told his Cabinet that Saudi Arabia should see the attack as a warning to end its war in Yemen, where it has fought the Houthi rebels since 2015 and sought to restore the internationally recognized government.

Rouhani said Yemenis “did not hit hospitals, they did not hit schools or the Sanaa bazaar,” mentioning the Saudi-led coalition’s widely criticized airstrikes.

He added that Iran does not want conflict in the region, but it was the Saudi-led coalition that “waged the war in the region and ruined Yemen.”

“They attacked an industrial center to warn you. Learn the lesson from the warning,” he said, portraying the Houthis as responsible for the drone strikes.

Wednesday’s announcements comes after Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said late Tuesday that more than half of the country’s daily crude oil production that was knocked out by an attack had been recovered and that production capacity at its targeted plants would be fully restored by the end of the month.

Pompeo was due to land in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, where he was scheduled to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Pompeo later will travel to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday to meet with Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Both nations are US allies and have been fighting against the Houthis in Yemen since March 2015.

The Saudi military planned to speak to journalists Wednesday in Riyadh to discuss the investigation into Saturday’s attack “and present material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement.” It did not elaborate.

Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that US military experts were in Saudi Arabia working with their counterparts to “do the forensics on the attack” — gleaning evidence that could help build a convincing case for where the weapons originated.

On Wednesday, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office announced experts from his nation would be traveling to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom shed light ” on the origin and methods” of the attacks. France has been trying to find a diplomatic solution to the tensions between Iran and the US, so any conclusion they draw could be used to show what a third-party assessed happened.

 

Wary of conflict, Trump takes go-slow approach to attack on Saudi oil 

September 18, 2019

Source: Wary of conflict, Trump takes go-slow approach to attack on Saudi oil – Middle East – Jerusalem Post

Known for acting on impulse, President Donald Trump has adopted an uncharacteristically go-slow approach over whether to hold Iran responsible for attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

BY REUTERS
 SEPTEMBER 18, 2019 05:52
Wary of conflict, Trump takes go-slow approach to attack on Saudi oil

WASHINGTON – Known for acting on impulse, President Donald Trump has adopted an uncharacteristically go-slow approach over whether to hold Iran responsible for attacks on Saudi oil facilities, showing little enthusiasm for confrontation as he seeks re-election next year.

After state-owned Saudi Aramco’s plants were struck on Saturday, Trump did not wait long to fire off a tweet that the United States was “locked and loaded” to respond, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran.

But four days later, Trump has no timetable for action. Instead, he wants to wait and see the results of investigations into what happened and is sending Pompeo to consult counterparts in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week.

“There’s plenty of time,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “You know, there’s no rush. We’ll all be here a long time. There’s no rush.”

Two U.S. officials told Reuters on Tuesday that Washington believes the attack was launched from Iran, with one of them saying it originated in Iran’s southwest.

U.S. officials say Trump, who is famously skeptical of his intelligence community, wants to ensure the culprit is positively identified in a way that will pass muster not only with him but with the American people.

“In responding to the greatest attack on the global oil markets in history, I think not rushing to respond and ensuring everybody is on the same page is where we should be,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s stance today is in stark contrast to 2017, less than three months into his presidency, when he waited only two days before launching air strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for a chemical weapons attack.

AMERICA FIRST

Trump’s caution reflects the “America First” world view that found support with his base in the 2016 presidential campaign and that he is trying to promote again as he seeks a second term in 2020.

Pillars of that view are that the Iraq war was a waste of blood and money, that the end of the war in Afghanistan is long overdue, and that Washington should be reimbursed for deployment of U.S. troops abroad, from South Korea to Germany.

Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former State Department official, said Trump also “has grown increasingly cautious as the reality of any military actions increased.”

“There’s a large constituency the president has that thinks it would be lunacy to go to war against Iran,” he said. “There’s a large part of his base that thinks the craziest thing we could do is committing ourselves to endless wars in the Middle East.”

The attacks on Saudi targets have stymied for now what had been an effort to open talks with Iranian leaders to try to get a sense of whether they were ready to strike a deal on their nuclear and ballistic missile programs in response to economic sanctions that have taken a toll on Iran’s economy.

Trump’s willingness to consider easing sanctions on Iran alarmed his national security adviser, John Bolton, when the president raised the idea at a meeting last Monday, a source close to Bolton said. By the next day, Bolton was out.

Bolton’s departure removed a central anti-Iran voice from the president’s inner circle. A well-known foreign policy hawk, Bolton was said to be furious in June when Trump abruptly called off air strikes in response to Iran’s shooting down of a U.S. drone.

“If Bolton were there, he would be saying it was definitely Iran, and we need to strike right now,” said a former senior administration official.

Trump rebuked Lindsey Graham, one of his staunchest supporters in the U.S. Senate, after the Republican senator said in a tweet on Tuesday that Iran had seen Trump’s response to the drone downing as a sign of weakness.

“No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!” Trump said on Twitter.

In Venezuela, despite repeated vows that all options were on the table, Trump also resisted Bolton’s suggestions for a stronger focus on military planning in the country, where a U.S.-led campaign of sanctions and diplomatic pressure has failed to push socialist president Nicolas Maduro from power.

Barring a major escalation, future U.S. measures are expected to continue to stop short of military action due to a lack of support from U.S. voters but also because of opposition from allies in Latin America.

“We have to be realistic,” a Venezuela opposition source said. “Trump will not be sending in the Marines to rescue us.”