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US supports Saudi ‘right to defend itself,’ Iran slams new sanctions

Secretary Pompeo Meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (U.S. Department of State/Flickr)
September 19, 2019

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

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says the United States supports Riyadh’s “right to defend itself” after a weekend attack on its oil industry that Washington has blamed on Iran.

Commenting after a meeting with Saudi Arabia’s powerful crown prince, Pompeo wrote on Twitter on September 19 that the Iranian regime’s “threatening behavior will not be tolerated.”

Pompeo’s comments and the meeting with the crown prince, Muhammad bin Salman, came as tensions in the region soared to new heights following a September 14 attack on Saudi Arabia’s largest oil-production complex.

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Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels had earlier said they were behind the attack.

But Washington and Riyadh have directly blamed Tehran. Saudi Arabia on September 18 put on display drone and missile fragments that it said showed the attack was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran.”

When asked about military retaliation, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Germany said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio on September 19 that “everything is on the table.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that the claim by Yemeni rebels “lacks credibility,” though he cautioned that the world should “wait for the results” of an international investigation until making a definitive determination of guilt.

Tehran has denied involvement and warned it would retaliate against any attack that targeted Iran.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told CNN on September 19 that the result of any U.S. or Saudi military strike against his country would result in “all-out war.”

“I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want war; we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation…. But we won’t blink to defend our territory,” Zarif said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said a variety of options, including war, were available as a response.

“There are many options. There’s the ultimate option and there are options that are a lot less than that. And we’ll see,” Trump told reporters in Los Angeles. “I’m saying the ultimate option meaning go in — war.”

Trump also said he ordered the U.S. Treasury to “substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran!” He told reporters the unspecified economic measures would be revealed within 48 hours.

Zarif strongly condemned the order for new sanctions, describing the decision as “economic terrorism, illegal and inhumane.”

Trump and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the attack and discussed in a phone call the need for a united diplomatic response to the incident, the two leaders’ offices said.

The prime minister’s office said they agreed that Iran “must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, meanwhile, said experts from the UN had left for Saudi Arabia to investigate the attacks. He has condemned the attacks, calling them “a dramatic escalation” in the Persian Gulf that must be halted.

Before arriving in Saudi Arabia, Pompeo said the attacks were an Iranian “act of war” and called the Huthi rebels’ claim of responsibility “fraudulent.”

“We were blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack, but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always risk that that could happen,” he said.

Pompeo said U.S. intelligence experts had “high confidence” the Huthis do not possess the weapons used in the incident.

Riyadh is leading a coalition of Arab states fighting against the Iran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen.

The latest escalation in tensions has dampened speculation of a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rohani during a gathering of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.

Iranian state media reported on September 18 that Rohani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may not attend the General Assembly at all unless U.S. visas are issued in the next few hours.

Trump later said that if it were up to him, he would give the two Iranian leaders U.S. visas to attend the UN event.

The United States is required as host country to issue the visas. The State Department said it does not comment on individual cases.