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September 20, 2019

Pompeo favours ´peaceful resolution´ to crisis after Saudi oil attack


Fri, Sep 20, 2019

Mike Pompeo meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

DUBAI: The US wants a peaceful solution to the crisis sparked by attacks on Saudi oil installations, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday, after Iran raised the spectre of "all-out war".

Pompeo has blamed Iran for the dramatic weekend assault on two facilities, condemning an "act of war" which knocked out half the kingdom´s oil production.

The rhetoric has raised the risk of an unpredictable escalation in a tinderbox region where Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-old struggle for dominance.

After meeting with allies in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Pompeo said there was an "enormous consensus in the region" that Iran carried out the attacks, despite its denials and Yemeni rebels´ claims that they were responsible.

But Pompeo said the US was intent on finding a way out of the confrontation.

"We´d like a peaceful resolution. I think we´ve demonstrated that," he told reporters.

"I hope the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way."

Iran´s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier warned any US or Saudi military strike on Iran could lead to "all-out war".

"We don´t want war," he told CNN in an interview aired Thursday, "but we won´t blink to defend our territory."

- ´Glass towers´ -

Saudi foreign affairs minister Adel al-Jubeir warned on Twitter that complacency towards Iran will encourage it to "commit more acts of terrorism and sabotage in our region".

Saudi officials on Wednesday unveiled what they said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired Saturday at the oil facilities in the country´s east, engulfing them in flames.

"The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran," defence ministry spokesman Turki al-Maliki said, although he refused to be drawn on whether Saudi officials believed Iran directly carried out the operation.

Tehran-linked Huthi rebels in Saudi Arabia´s southern neighbour Yemen have claimed responsibility, but both Washington and Riyadh have said the operation was beyond the Yemeni insurgents´ capabilities.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also said the Huthi claim "lacks credibility".

The Huthis have however hit dozens of targets in Saudi Arabia, and their rapidly advancing arsenal has exposed the kingdom´s vulnerability despite its vast military spending.

The Huthis said Saturday´s assault was launched from three locations inside Yemen, using advanced drones with long-range capabilities.

They also threatened the United Arab Emirates -- a key member of the Saudi-led coalition - with strikes against "towers made of glass that cannot withstand one drone", in apparent reference to the glitzy cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

US military planners weighing retaliation have reportedly prepared a list of Iranian targets including the Abadan oil refinery, one of the world´s largest, and Khark Island, the country´s biggest crude export facility, the New York Times said.

Other potential targets include missile launch sites and other assets of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, along with bases near the Gulf.

- ´New context´ -

The United Nations said Thursday that experts had arrived in Saudi Arabia to investigate Saturday´s attack, "at the invitation of the Saudi authorities".

US officials quoted by CBS News say unreleased satellite photos showed Iran´s Revolutionary Guard Corps making preparations for the attack at Ahvaz airbase.

The latest spike in tensions has dampened speculation of a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week.

French President Emmanuel Macron has been pushing for the meeting to defuse the standoff over the Iranian nuclear programme.

But on Thursday, a French presidential official who asked not to be named said Saturday´s attack "creates a new context".