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Pompeo heads to Saudi Arabia as US weighs response to Saudi oil attack

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on April 28, 2018. (U.S. Department of State/Released)
September 18, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. military is “ready to defend” the interests of the country’s allies, and that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is en route to Saudi Arabia to “discuss our response” to an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities over the weekend.

In a September 17 speech at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, Pence said the United States was reviewing evidence that suggests Iran was behind the attack, and was consulting with its allies before President Donald Trump determines “the best course of action in the days ahead.”

Three unnamed U.S. officials were quoted as saying that the September 14 attack that struck a Saudi oil field and the world’s largest crude-oil-processing plant originated in southwestern Iran and involved both cruise missiles and drones.

Iran denies involvement in the air attack, which was claimed by Iranian-backed Yemeni Huthi rebels, who said drones were used.

The strikes knocked out 5.7 million barrels of crude-oil production per day for the Saudi kingdom, or about 5 percent of the world’s daily production.

In his address, Pence said the United States was “locked and loaded” and “ready to defend our interests and allies in the region.”

“Make no mistake about it,” he added.

If Iran conducted the attack to pressure Trump to lighten sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran over its nuclear program, that strategy will fail, the vice president added.

The State Department said Pompeo will meet with Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in Jeddah on September 18 to discuss “the recent attack on the kingdom’s oil facilities and coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region.”

Pompeo will then go to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to hold talks with Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed.

On September 16, Trump said that it was increasingly “looking like” Iran was behind the attack, but that it was still too early to be sure.

He told reporters in Washington that the United States didn’t want war but was ready to help a key ally in the Persian Gulf region counter the attack once a “definitive” determination is made on who was responsible.

“I don’t want war with anybody but we’re prepared,” Trump said, adding that talks with allies in the Persian Gulf region and in Europe would precede any U.S. strike.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on September 17 that the United States “is in denial if it thinks that Yemeni victims of 4.5 [years] of the worst war crimes wouldn’t do all to strike back.”

Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition that has been battling the Huthis since 2015.

In Jeddah, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said half of the production cut by the attack on the country’s processing plant had already been restored.

He added that within this month, production capacity would be up to 11 million barrels per day, compared to around 9.6 million barrels per day before the attack.

Relations between Washington and Tehran have soured since Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal last year and reimposed sanctions over the country’s nuclear and ballistic-missile programs.

Last week, the White House floated the possibility of a meeting between Trump and President Hassan Rohani during a United Nations meeting at the end of the month.

But Trump said on September 17 that he would “prefer not meeting” his Iranian counterpart.

“I’m not looking to meet him. I don’t think they’re ready yet but they’ll be ready,” he said.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei earlier on September 17 ruled out negotiations with the United States, saying the U.S. policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran was “worthless,” according to his official website.