"America is more prepared for a military conflict than at any point in its history"
Donald Trump said Iran appeared to be responsible for a strike against Saudi Arabian oil facilities that knocked out more than half the kingdom’s production, as the Pentagon revealed that it was working with US partners on a response. Financial Times reports in its article Donald Trump says Iran appears responsible for Saudi Arabia attack that Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen claimed responsibility for the weekend attack, which caused oil prices to spike as much as 20 per cent to above $71 a barrel on Monday — the biggest rise in percentage terms since the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
Following a briefing from his military and intelligence advisers at the White House on Monday, Mr Trump was asked whether Iran was to blame for the attack. He responded: “Well, it’s looking that way . . . That’s being checked out right now.” The US president said that while he did not want war with Iran, America was “more prepared” for a military conflict than at any point in its history. “With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid it,” Mr Trump said. Asked by reporters what options were available to the US beyond taking military action against Iran, Mr Trump said he had many but was “not looking at options right now”. He stressed that “we want to find definitively who did this”. But Mr Trump said that he viewed lethal military action as a proportional response to the attack on the oil facilities, in a sign that he would be more willing to take military action than in June when Iran allegedly shot down a US drone.
In June Mr Trump abruptly called off a military strike. At the time, he said military action was not a proportion response to the downing of the drone because it was an unmanned aerial vehicle and no US lives were taken. Explaining his decision, the US president said it showed he was not a “warmonger” or a “dove”, but “a man with common sense”.
Mark Esper, US defence secretary, on Monday said the Pentagon was formulating a response with other parts of the government after the White House meeting. He added that the military was “working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran”. Earlier on Monday, Mr Trump said the US was ready to respond once his national security team had made a final determination. His comments came even after Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, at the weekend said Iran was clearly responsible. Asked why he appeared to take a less definitive stance than his top diplomat, Mr Trump said that they were in “the same” place. “I think we just want to find out the final numbers . . . We’ll know for certain over the next pretty short period of time,” Mr Trump said.
The president earlier had said the US was “locked and loaded” and waiting on verification about the source of the attack. Colonel Turki al-Maliki, a spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis in Yemen, said a preliminary investigation showed that the weapons were Iranian. “We are currently working to determine the location . . . The terrorist attack did not originate from Yemen as the Houthi militia claimed,” he told reporters in Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia, which has long accused Iran of smuggling weapons to the Houthis, has not yet directly blamed the Islamic republic for the attacks. Four people briefed on the damage assessments told the Financial Times that Saudi Arabia’s oil production could take months to return to normal. The attack was on Abqaiq, a crude processing centre south-west of Saudi Aramco’s headquarters in Dhahran that prepares almost 70 per cent of the kingdom’s crude for export.
The price of Brent crude, the international benchmark, settled 14.6 per cent higher at $69.02 a barrel in New York on Monday, while West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, rose 14.7 per cent, to $62.90 a barrel. Foreign policy experts were divided over whether Mr Trump would respond with a strike on Iran — partly because of his apparent aversion to military force and because he has been trying to arrange a meeting with Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, when the two leaders attend the UN General Assembly next week in New York.
Despite a series of attacks in recent months that Washington has blamed on Iran, the US president has continued to push for a meeting with Mr Rouhani. Iran has shown no sign of willingness to meet unless the US removes sanctions. Mr Trump on Monday said there were no plans to meet the Iranian president, who he said wanted to hold a meeting with him.
European powers on Monday were reluctant to blame Iran, saying they were still assessing the situation. France, Germany and the UK — three of the countries that joined with the US in signing a landmark nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 — are trying to preserve the accord after the US withdrew, and are nervous about any military action.
James Stavridis, a retired top US military commander and former dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University, said the attacks were almost certainly the handiwork of Iran. “Iran is taking a page from the North Korean playbook: act out and the international community will eventually sit and negotiate. The danger here is miscalculation in a hair-trigger environment,” Mr Stavridis said. Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said Iran “should not underestimate” US resolve. “Any attack against US forces deployed abroad must be met with an overwhelming response — no targets are off the table,” Mr Risch said.