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Locked-loaded Trump eyes options – ‘Iran know-how, technology involved’

This image provided on Sept 15, by the US government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. The drone 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 percent of the world’s daily supply. (AP

WASHINGTON, Sept 16, (Agencies): US President Donald Trump said on Sunday the United States was “locked and loaded” for a potential response to the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, after a senior US administration official said Iran was to blame.

Trump also authorized the use of the US emergency oil stockpile to ensure stable supplies after the attack, which shut 5 percent of world production and sent crude prices soaring more than 19 percent in early trade on Monday, before moderating to show a 10 percent gain. “There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump said on Twitter.

Earlier in the day, a senior US official told reporters that evidence from the attack, which hit the world’s biggest oil processing facility, indicated Iran was behind it, instead of the Yemeni Houthi group that had claimed responsibility. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said there was no evidence the attack came from Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Houthis for over four years in a conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Muslim rival Iran. “Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo said

Many options
A senior White House official said Sunday that Trump and his national security team “keep many options on the table” regarding a retaliation on Iran’s “malign behavior.” In an interview on Fox network, Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway said “this president and his national security team … keep many options on the table, particularly when it comes to retaliating against maligned behavior and protecting American interests and Americans and our American economy.”

She reiterated that “the Iranian regime is responsible for this attack on civilian areas and infrastructure vital to our global energy supply, and we’re not going to stand for that,” referring to the attacks on Saturday on two oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. “We will continue to call out maligned behavior, continue with the maximum pressure campaign in Iran, and this is a president who withdrew us from a very bad nuclear deal with a ne’er-do-well regime,” she stressed.

Asked if Trump would still meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly, Conway said “he’ll consider it,” adding that the “conditions also always must be right for this president to make a deal or take a meeting.” She affirmed “the president will always consider his options … we’ve never committed to that meeting at the United Nations General Assembly. The president just said he’s looking at it. So, I’ll allow the president to announce a meeting or a non-meeting.” She continued “when you attack Saudi Arabia … attack civilian areas, critical infrastructure to indeed the world … the global economy, global energy stability, you’re not helping your case much.” Meanwhile, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told CBS network “Iranian know-how, Iranian technology was certainly involved.” “Whether the Iranians directly engaged in this or through the Houthi proxies is yet to be seen,” he added.

On Saturday, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, tweeting that “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” and that “there is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed the US allegations that it was responsible was “pointless”. A senior Revolutionary Guards commander warned the Islamic Republic was ready for “full-fl edged” war. “All American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kms around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Commander Amirali Hajizadeh as saying. Tensions between Washington and Tehran were already running high because of a long-running dispute between the two nations over Iran’s nuclear program that led the United States to impose sweeping sanctions. Oil prices surged as much as 19 percent in early Asian trade on Monday on worries over global supply and soaring tensions in the Middle East.

Brent crude
Brent crude posted its biggest intra-day percentage gain since the start of the Gulf War in 1991. State oil giant Saudi Aramco said the attack on Saturday had cut output by 5.7 million barrels per day. The US official, who asked not to be named, said on Sunday there were 19 points of impact in the attack on Saudi facilities and evidence showed the launch area was westnorthwest of the targets – not south from Yemen.

The official added that Saudi officials indicated they had seen signs that cruise missiles were used in the attack, which is inconsistent with the Iran-aligned Houthi group’s claim that it conducted the attack with 10 drones. “There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this. No matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it. There’s no other candidate,” the official told reporters. Riyadh has accused Iran of being behind previous attacks on oil-pumping stations and the Shaybah oil field, charges that Tehran denies, but has not blamed anyone for Saturday’s strike. Riyadh also says Tehran arms the Houthis, a charge both deny. Richard Nephew, a program director at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, said if Iran was responsible for the attack, it may be as retribution for US sanctions. “They are making decisions about whether and how to respond to what they see as a massive attack on their interests from the US via sanctions by attacking US interests in turn, and those of US partners they believe are responsible for US policy,” he said.

Aramco gave no timeline for output resumption. A source close to the matter told Reuters the return to full oil capacity could take “weeks, not days”. Riyadh said it would compensate for the damage at its facilities by drawing on its stocks, which stood at 188 million barrels in June, according to official data. Trump said he had “authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, in a to-bedetermined amount sufficient to keep the markets wellsupplied.”

Kuwait, which borders Iraq, said it was investigating the sighting of a drone over its territory and coordinating with Saudi Arabia and other countries. Iran said on Monday Rouhani will not meet with Trump at the United Nations, a day after the White House left open the possibility of talks between them. “Neither is such an event on our agenda, nor will it happen. Such a meeting will not take place,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks carried by state TV.

Iranian officials have repeatedly rejected a meeting and any talks with Washington while Iran is subject to sanctions, which Trump re-imposed after withdrawing last year from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear accords with world powers. Iran earlier condemned as “unacceptable” US accusations it was behind an attack on Saudi oil plants, after the United States said it was “locked and loaded” for a potential response.

The strikes were claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi rebels. “Stopping all sanctions is an indispensable precondition for constructive diplomacy. We hold meetings when we are sure that our people’s problems can be solved,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei said, according to the semi-official news agency Tasnim. “Sanctions must be lifted, and the United States must respect the Iranian nation,” Rabiei said.

Russia on Monday urged countries in the Middle East and outside the region not to draw “hasty conclusions” on who staged the attacks on Saudi oil facilities. A senior US official said earlier that evidence from the attack, which hit the world’s biggest oil-processing facility, indicated Iran was behind it, instead of the Yemeni Houthi group that had claimed responsibility. China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday it was irresponsible to blame anyone for an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities without conclusive facts, striking a cautious note after the United States blamed Iran. Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying appealed for calm and restrain

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