Trump: US Locked & Loaded After Attack 09/16 06:11
Tensions are flaring in the Persian Gulf after President Donald Trump said
the U.S. is "locked and loaded" to respond to a weekend drone assault on Saudi
Arabia's energy infrastructure that his aides blamed on Iran.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Tensions are flaring in the Persian Gulf after President
Donald Trump said the U.S. is "locked and loaded" to respond to a weekend drone
assault on Saudi Arabia's energy infrastructure that his aides blamed on Iran.
The attack, which halved the kingdom's oil production and sent crude prices
spiking, led Trump to authorize the release of U.S. strategic reserves should
they be necessary to stabilize markets.
Trump said the U.S. had reason to believe it knew who was behind the attack
his secretary of state had blamed Iran the previous day and said his government
was waiting to consult with the Saudis as to who they believe was behind the
attack and "under what terms we would proceed!"
The tweets Sunday followed a National Security Council meeting at the White
House and hours after U.S. officials offered what they said was proof that the
attack was inconsistent with claims of responsibility by Yemen's Iran-backed
Houthi rebels and instead pointed the finger directly at Tehran.
A U.S. official said all options, including a military response, were on the
table, but added that no decisions had been made. The official spoke on the
condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations.
Iran called the U.S. claims "maximum lies" and threatened American forces in
the region. The attack dimmed hopes for potential nuclear talks between Trump
and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the U.N. General Assembly this week.
The U.S. government produced satellite photos showing what officials said
were at least 19 points of impact at two Saudi energy facilities, including
damage at the heart of the kingdom's crucial oil processing plant at Abqaiq.
Officials said the photos show impacts consistent with the attack coming from
the direction of Iran or Iraq, rather than from Yemen to the south.
Iraq denied that its territory was used for an attack on the kingdom. U.S.
officials said a strike from there would be a violation of Iraq's sovereignty.
The U.S. officials said additional devices, which apparently didn't reach
their targets, were recovered northwest of the facilities and are being jointly
analyzed by Saudi and American intelligence. The officials, who spoke on
condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, did not address whether
the drone could have been fired from Yemen, then taken a round-about path, but
did not explicitly rule it out.
The attacks and recriminations are increasing already heightened fears of an
escalation in the region, after a prominent U.S. senator suggested striking
Iranian oil refineries in response to the assault, and Iran warned of the
potential of more violence.
"Because of the tension and sensitive situation, our region is like a powder
keg," said Iranian Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. "When these contacts come too
close, when forces come into contact with one another, it is possible a
conflict happens because of a misunderstanding."
Actions on any side could break into the open a twilight war that's been
raging just below the surface of the wider Persian Gulf in recent months.
Already, there have been mysterious attacks on oil tankers that America blames
on Tehran, at least one suspected Israeli strike on Shiite forces in Iraq, and
Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone.
The attack Saturday on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq plant and its Khurais oil field
led to the interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels of the kingdom's
crude oil production per day, equivalent to more than 5% of the world's daily
supply. It remains unclear how King Salman and his assertive son, Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman, will respond to an attack targeting the heart of the Saudi
Crude oil futures shot up 9.5% to $60 as trading opened Sunday evening in
New York, a dramatic increase.
Saudi Arabia has promised to fill in the cut in production with its
reserves, but has not said how long it will take to repair the damage. The Wall
Street Journal cited Saudi officials as saying a third of output would be
restored on Monday, but a return to full production may take weeks.
In Washington, Trump said he had approved the release of U.S. strategic
petroleum reserves "if needed" to stabilize energy markets. The president said
the final amount of the release, if any, would be "sufficient to keep the
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed the U.S.
allegation of responsibility as "blind and futile comments."
"The Americans adopted the 'maximum pressure' policy against Iran, which,
due to its failure, is leaning toward 'maximum lies,'" Mousavi said in a
Houthi leader Muhammad al-Bukhaiti reiterated his group's claim of
responsibility, telling The Associated Press it exploited "vulnerabilities" in
Saudi air defenses to strike the targets. He did not elaborate.
Iran, meanwhile, kept up its own threats. Hajizadeh, the brigadier general
who leads the country's aerospace program, said in an interview published
across Iranian media Sunday that Revolutionary Guard forces were ready for a
counterattack if America responded, naming the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and
Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as immediate
targets, as well as U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.
"Wherever they are, it only takes one spark and we hit their vessels, their
air bases, their troops," he said in a video published online with English
Trump insisted that unspecified conditions must be met before he would sit
down with the Iranian leader, apparently rejecting the comments of two top
"The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, 'No
Conditions.' That is an incorrect statement (as usual!)." In fact, Treasury
Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last week that "the president has said that he is
prepared to meet with no conditions." And Pompeo had told reporters days
earlier that "the President has made clear he is happy to take a meeting with
Iran has said it was unwilling to meet with Trump while crushing sanctions
the American leader imposed on Tehran after unilaterally withdrawing from the
2015 nuclear accord over a year ago remain in place.