Rouhani: Aramco attacks, reciprocal response by Yemen
US President Donald Trump said on Monday it appeared Iran was behind attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia but stressed he did not want to go to war, as the attacks sent oil prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict.
Iran has rejected US charges it was behind the strikes on Saturday that damaged the world’s biggest crude-processing plant and triggered the largest jump in crude prices in decades.
Relations between the United States and Iran have deteriorated since Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear accord last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran over nuclear and ballistic programs.
The United States was still investigating if Iran was behind the Saudi strikes, Trump said, but “it’s certainly looking that way at this moment”.
Trump, who has spent much of his presidency trying to disentangle the United States from wars he inherited, made clear, however, he was not going to rush into a new conflict on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
“I’m somebody that would like not to have war,” Trump said.
Several US cabinet members, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, have blamed Tehran for the strikes. Pompeo and others will travel to Saudi Arabia soon, Trump said.
A day after saying the United States was “locked and loaded” to respond to the incident, Trump said on Monday there was “no rush” to do so.
“We have a lot of options but I’m not looking at options right now. We want to find definitively who did this,” he said.
US has no commitments
Trump said he had not made commitments to protect the Saudis.
“No, I haven’t promised Saudis that. We have to sit down with the Saudis and work something out,” he said. “That was an attack on Saudi Arabia, and that wasn’t an attack on us. But we would certainly help them.”
Yemen’s Houthi movement claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack, which knocked out more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.
Saudi Arabia said the attacks were carried out with Iranian weapons and urged UN experts to help investigate the raid.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said Iranian threats were not only directed against the kingdom but against the Middle East and the world.
While the prince did not directly accuse Tehran, a Foreign Ministry statement reported him as calling on the international community to condemn whomever was behind the strike.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the strikes were carried out by “Yemeni people” retaliating for attacks by a Saudi-led military coalition.
“The Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defense ... the attacks were a reciprocal response to aggression against Yemen for years,” Rouhani told reporters during a visit to Ankara.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi called the US allegations “unacceptable and entirely baseless.”
The attacks cut five percent of world crude oil production.
Oil prices surged by as much as 19 percent after the incidents, the biggest intraday jump since the 1990-91 Persian Gulf crisis over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Prices retreated from their peak after Trump said he would release US emergency supplies and producers said there were enough stocks globally to make up for the shortfall.
Japan said it would consider coordinated release of its oil reserves and other measures if needed to ensure sufficient supplies in the wake of the attacks.
Crude prices were down around one percent in Asian trade on Tuesday.
Two sources briefed on state oil company Saudi Aramco’s operations has said it might take months for Saudi oil production to return to normal. Earlier estimates had suggested it could take weeks.
Yemen’s Houthis have promised more strikes to come. Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said the group carried out Saturday’s predawn attack with drones, including some powered by jet engines.
“We assure the Saudi regime that our long arm can reach any place we choose and at the time of our choosing,” Sarea tweeted. “We warn companies and foreigners against being near the plants that we struck because they are still in our sights.”
The attacks have raised questions about how Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s top spenders on weaponry, much of it supplied by US companies, was unable to protect oil plants from attack.
Sensing a commercial opening, President Vladimir Putin said Russia was ready to help Saudi Arabia by providing Russian-made air defense systems to protect Saudi infrastructure.
Putin evidently saw it as a chance to make a sales pitch, or at least enjoy a joke, at the expense of the West.
“We are ready to help Saudi Arabia protect their people,” he said, with a somber face, but beginning to bob slightly in his chair. “They need to make clever decisions, as Iran did by buying our S300.”
Russia and China said it was wrong to jump to conclusions about who was to blame for the attack on Saudi Arabia.
Reuters and AP contributed to this story.