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September 19, 2019

Trump announces new sanctions against Iran

Top Story

September 19, 2019

WASHINGTON/RIYADH/TEHRAN/PARIS: President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced what he said would be substantial new sanctions against Iran in the first response to what US officials say was likely Iranian involvement in an attack on Saudi oil facilities.

"I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!" Trump said in a tweet. The United States already enforces widespread sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy, including attempting to shut down its major oil export industry.

There were no immediate details on what the new measures might be. Trump has yet to put categorical blame on Iran for last weekend’s bombardment by drones or missiles of Saudi oil facilities. However, a US official has confirmed that the administration believes Iran is responsible.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due shortly in Saudi Arabia to meet with the petro-state’s ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to discuss a response.

Trump faces pressurefrom some quarters in Washington to go to war against Iran but he has so far resisted expanding US military entanglements abroad.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia said Wednesday that strikes on its oil infrastructure came from the "north" and were "unquestionably" sponsored by Iran, but that the kingdom was still investigating where exactly they were launched from. "The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran," defence ministry spokesman Turki al-Maliki told a press conference. "We are working to know the exact launch point."

However, he would not be drawn on whether Saudi Arabia believed Iran would ultimately be found to be the culprit, only saying they were confident they would find where the weapons were fired from.

Maliki displayed pieces of what he said were cruise missiles and drones used in the strike, recovered from the site of Saturday´s attack in the country´s east. He said a combination of 18 drones and seven cruise missiles fired at the two key oil installations from a direction that ruled out its southern neighbour Yemen as a source.

He reiterated Riyadh´s position that the Iran-backed Huthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is mired in a five-year conflict, were not responsible for the assault despite claiming it. "Despite Iran´s efforts to make it appear so" they did not originate from Yemen, he said, adding the strike was beyond the capabilities of the militia -- who have however mounted dozens of smaller attacks on Saudi territory. In addition, "the targeting direction indicates it came from the north," he said.

Meanwhile, Iran´s President Hassan Rouhani and his delegation could be forced into skipping next week´s UN General Assembly because the United States has yet to issue them visas, state media said Wednesday.

Rouhani and his delegation had been scheduled to travel to New York for the annual UN gathering on Monday, but that was now looking unlikely given the lack of visas, state news agency IRNA said. "If the visas aren´t issued in a few hours, this trip will probably be cancelled," IRNA reported.

The delegation includes Iran´s top diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif, who the United States imposed sanctions against on July 31. The foreign minister had been due to travel to New York on Friday morning, according to IRNA.

The absence of Rouhani would ruin France´s bid to arrange a meeting between him and US President Donald Trump as part of European efforts to de-escalate tensions between the arch-foes. "Iran´s absence will show that in contrast with its commitments to the United Nations and international organisations within the framework of agreements, diplomacy has no value for the United States," IRNA said.

While, Iran has sent the United States a diplomatic note denying any role in attacks on Saudi oil installations and warning it would respond to any action, state media said Wednesday.

The formal memo sent on Monday through the Swiss embassy, which represents US interests in Tehran, "emphasised that Iran has not played any role in this attack", the official IRNA news agency said.

It said Iran "denies and condemns claims" by US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that it was behind the attacks. "It was also emphasised that if any actions are taken against Iran, that action will face an immediate response from Iran and its scope will not be limited to just a threat," IRNA said.

The message was delivered on Monday afternoon, it reported, after Trump said Iran was likely to have been behind the attacks on its regional arch-rival Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, France is sending experts to Saudi Arabia to investigate the origin of attacks on Saudi oil facilities that Washington blamed on Iran, the presidency said Wednesday after telephone talks between President Emmanuel Macron and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Macron spoke to Prince Mohammed known as MBS, following Saturday´s attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia that badly hit its oil output.

In the telephone talks, Macron "strongly condemned" the attacks and assured Prince Mohammed of France´s "solidarity with Saudi Arabia in the face of these attacks," the Elysee said.

It added: "In response to a request by the Saudi authorities, the president confirmed to the crown prince that France was sending experts to take part in investigations aimed at shedding light on the origin and nature of the attacks on September 14."

The statement gave no further details on the nature of the investigation or who France believed was to blame for the attacks.