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Allies wary as Saudis seek action on Tehran

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir, leaves a press conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

DUBAI/RIYADH, Sept 22, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia will seek to make a case at a global gathering in New York this week for concerted action to punish and deter arch-foe Iran after strikes on Saudi oil plants rattled global markets and exposed the Kingdom’s vulnerability to attack.

However, even Riyadh’s main allies the United States and the United Arab Emirates have little appetite for a conventional military confrontation which may spark a war in the Gulf and drag in other oil producers, diplomats say.

As it tries to build a coalition, Riyadh is preparing to provide evidence to the UN General Assembly which it says will prove Iran was behind the Sept 14 drone and missile assault which initially drastically affected its oil output, a view shared by Washington. Riyadh says Iranian weapons were launched from the north and that it is working to pinpoint the exact location. Iran has denied any involvement and vowed to retaliate against even a limited military response.

It has criticised the accusations as part of a campaign of “maximum pressure” launched by US President Donald Trump on Tehran after he quit a 2015 nuclear pact last year and widened sanctions to choke off Iran’s oil exports. Riyadh wants to see more punitive action by the international community.

“This attack is a tipping point. Saudi Arabia will make the case this was a devastating blow and continued threat to the global economy,” a Gulf Arab source told Reuters on Sunday. “If Saudi Arabia can prove without reasonable doubt that Iran was behind it, then world powers could exercise their clout – their pressure, their trade tools, pulling Iran back from its brinkmanship policy,” the source said.

Ahead of the UN General Assembly, Riyadh says it wants a peaceful resolution, but if the probe proved the strike came from Iran then “this would be considered an act of war”.

In Tehran, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that he will present at the General Assembly a plan for “creating security” in the Gulf in cooperation with other regional nations, without providing further details. Concrete evidence over responsibility for the latest drone attack is likely to be crucial to overcome reservations by European and other powers, who were largely reluctant to join a US-led maritime security coalition after tanker attacks in May and June in Gulf waters were also blamed on Iran. Tehran has also denied involvement in those strikes. The Sept 14 attack “was a big escalation, there is a clear problem. But it is a real dilemma of how to react without escalating further,” said a Western diplomat. “It is not clear yet what the US wants to do.”

France, which is trying to salvage the nuclear deal as Iran scales back its commitments, has urged de-escalation. China and Russia, which hold vetoes in the UN Security Council, have warned against attributing blame without providing proof. Britain’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Sunday that he thinks, “It’s quite right that Saudi Arabia be able to defend itself from further attacks of that nature, which are outrageous.”

In radio show with BBC1, the minister hoped that “there will be a united international response on this.” Raab added that it is implausible that attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities were launched by Yemen’s Houthi movement. The US has accused Iran of being behind the strikes, but Tehran has denied the claims.

The minister added, “we want to see de-escalation of the tensions in the region. “We don’t want to see a military confl agration,” Raab noted. Australia is not getting involved with the United States in its pursuit of aims in relation to Iran, beyond a commitment to freedom of navigation in the region, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after talks with Trump

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