Iran denies attacks on oil facilities
Trump says the US is ‘locked and loaded’ for possible retaliatory strike
ISTANBUL — President Donald Trump said Sunday that the United States was prepared to respond to the devastating attacks on two oil installations in Saudi Arabia that halved the state oil company’s production output, while Iran rejected U.S. accusations that it was responsible.
“There is reason to believe that we know the culprit,” Trump said in a tweet Sunday evening. He said the United States was “locked and loaded depending on verification.”
Trump did not name Iran, as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had on Saturday, nor specify whether he was contemplating a military response. He said he was waiting to hear from the Saudis on “who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”
His administration was contemplating what U.S. officials characterized as a serious
military response, though some in the Pentagon were said to be urging restraint. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations. Trump met with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Sunday afternoon.
Oil futures jumped Sunday evening as markets opened for the first time since the attacks. The price of Brent crude surged 18 percent before falling back to 12 percent; the U.S. benchmark West Texas intermediate climbed 12 percent before easing to a 10 percent gain. Trump said he had authorized the release of oil from strategic reserves, “if needed,” to blunt the market impact of the attacks.
The attacks on Saturday could upend Trump’s hopes for new U.S.-Iran negotiations, an effort in which he has faced opposition from close ally Israel and many of his own hawkish foreign policy aides. Trump said last week that he would not rule out a personal meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani this month.
The Houthis, a rebel group in Yemen allied with Iran, had claimed responsibility for the attacks Saturday, saying it had sent a fleet of drones toward the Aramco facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia. Within hours later, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran directly for what he called “an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”
There was “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” Pompeo said in a tweet. His comments, along with a U.S. government damage assessment of one of the stricken oil facilities that suggested the attack might not have come from Yemen, fed speculation that the strikes had been launched from Iran, or by Tehran’s allies in neighboring Iraq.
Saudi Arabia, which said on Saturday it was still probing the source of the attack, remained silent on Sunday about the possible culprit. Media outlets in Kuwait, which sits between Iraq and Saudi Arabia, reported Sunday that officials were investigating a drone sighting over the country, deepening the mystery.
The possibility that Iran had played a direct role in an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure unnerved a region already reeling from multiple conflicts: a war in Yemen, a feud between Qatar and its neighbors and a confrontation between the United States and Iran.
The Trump administration has made isolating Iran a centerpiece of its foreign policy. The administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal Tehran struck with world powers and imposed economic sanctions and an embargo on oil exports.
The United States blamed Iran for a spate of mysterious attacks on commercial tankers in the Persian Gulf region; In June, Iranian forces shot down a U.S. Navy spy drone.
The incident nearly prompted a U.S. counterstrike — an operation President Donald Trump said he called off at the last minute.
A senior Kuwaiti diplomat said his government was “extremely concerned” about the region’s stability in the wake of the attack. The diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, did not say whether Kuwait believed Iran was directly involved.
The attack on Aramco “aimed to disrupt oil markets worldwide and to undermine regional stability,” he said. “It’s a very dangerous period in the gulf region.”
Officials in Iran and Iraq pushed back forcefully against allegations the attacks had come from their territories.
“Having failed at ‘max pressure,’” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, Pompeo was now “turning to ‘max deceit.’”
Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, denied the strikes had been launched from his country. He said his government would “deal firmly” with anyone trying to attack neighboring countries from Iraq.
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Albukhaiti reiterated the group’s claim that it had carried out the strikes.
“We confirm that the Yemeni forces are the ones who hit the oil fields, and everyone knows our credibility, in every attack we announce,” he said in a telephone interview.
“We don’t need to provide evidence,” he added, and pointed out that Pompeo had not provided any proof that strikes had come from Iran or Iraq.
A satellite image shows fires after a drone strike on two major oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia.