Secretary of State Mike Pompeo en route to the Middle East Wednesday described the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities as an ‘act of war,’ while also pointing the finger at Iran as the culprit.
‘This was an Iranian attack,’ Pompeo told reporters.
Pompeo’s direct language pinnign the attack on Iran came hours after President Trump announced he has ordered the Treasury ‘substantially’ increase economic sanctions on Iran.
That announcement raised the possibility that the U.S. was coordinating an economic, as well as a diplomatic response, but not necessarily a military one.
The tough language came after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said following a call with Trump that the two leaders had discussed a ‘united diplomatic response.’
‘They condemned the attacks and discussed the need for a united diplomatic response from international partners. They also spoke about Iran and agreed that they must not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon,’ according to Johnson’s office.
President Trump’s top national security officials have provided him with a ‘menu’ of options as it relates to Iran
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (C) walks alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf (C-R) as he arrives at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on September 18, 2019
Trump’s sanctions announcement came after he huddled with his security advisors to get military and other options.
The president’s response against the already heavily-sanctioned Iran comes after he received options including military ones from his security advisors – while fending off outside pressure from a key political ally that Tehran viewed his response to its downing of a U.S. drone in June as a sign of ‘weakness.’
‘I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!’ Trump tweeted.
His statement followed the drone attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities that caused a spike in oil prices and threw Saudi oil production back on its heels.
The Treasury and the White House have yet to provide more detailed information about what sanctions are to be imposed.
Traveling with reporters on a fundraising sprint through California on Wednesday, Trump did not rule out meeting Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani.
‘I never rule anything out, but I prefer not meeting him,’ Trump said.
It was not immediately clear if the president’s action on sanctions meant he was leaning against additional military action by U.S. or ally Saudi Arabia. In Monday remarks to reporters he did not say definitively that Iran was behind the brazen attack.
The Saudi was unequivocal Wednesday about who was responsible.’ The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,’ said Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Turki al-Malki, Reuters reported.
‘We are working to know the exact launch point.’
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a key Trump political ally, did not cast the response as sufficient in comments to reporters at the Capitol Wednesday.
‘I’m hoping that Secretary Pompeo can pull together a coalition that will act in a fashion to change Iran’s behavior,’ Graham said. He called for ‘action by the administration and the world to restore deterrence.’
‘I am looking for a response that would be unequivocal. If they don’t pay a price for bombing a neighbor’s oil fields, then all hell is going to break out in the Mideast,’ Graham said, in comments aired on CNN.
Graham tweeted that the president’s response to earlier Iranian downing of U.S. drone was seen ‘as a sign of weakness’ in Tehran
The president already began a ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, which included tightening sanctions, on Iran earlier in his tenure when he withdrew the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal.
Trump tweeted about ‘substantially’ increased sanctions on Iran, without providing details
Trump took to Twitter and fired back by saying: ‘No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!’
In June Trump authorised a military strike against Tehran in response to the downing of a US military drone with Iran denied involvement with. After learning there would be 150 casualties, Trump called the strike off. Pictured is Lindsey Graham
The president replied: ‘No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!’
Graham also tweeted Tuesday: ‘The problems with Iran only get worse over time so it is imperative we take decisive action to deter further aggression by the Ayatollah and his henchman.’
The president is weighing a wide range of possible actions against Iran as retaliation for its alleged attack on Saudi oil facilities, it was reported Tuesday.
National security officials have reportedly presented the president with a ‘menu’ of options that include military strikes and cyber attacks.
But Trump is said to be leaning toward a ‘narrowly focused response’ that would not entail the United States being sucked into a prolonged military conflict with Iran, NBC News is reporting.
One option being considered by the president and top officials in his administration include background support for a Saudi strike.
This scenario would see the Americans provide intelligence, surveillance capabilities, and targeting information to Saudi forces – though no U.S. personnel would fire weapons at Iran.
The administration could launch military or cyber attacks against Iran, which it blames for the strike on a Saudi oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia on Saturday
The attack on the Saudi oil facility was a sophisticated one which used cruise missiles and drones, according to Western officials
American military planners have long prepared a list of possible Iranian targets, including the Abadan oil refinery and the Kharg Island oil export facility.
These are key sites which are critical to Iran’s ability to process and sell oil.
Since pulling out of the 2015 nuclear agreement, the Trump administration has tightened economic sanctions against Iran.
The Trump administration could also direct the military to strike at sites belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Officials familiar with the planning told NBC News that while no decision has been made, the Pentagon will beef up American troop presence in the Persian Gulf.
Tensions in the region have been high since earlier Tuesday, when American officials laid the blame for the attack on Iran.
Trump on Tuesday defended his decision not to attack in Iran in June after an American drone was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz
A U.S. official told Reuters that Washington believes the attack originated in southwestern Iran.
Three officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the attacks involved both cruise missiles and drones, indicating that they involved a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.
The officials did not provide evidence or explain what U.S. intelligence they were using for the evaluations. Such intelligence, if shared publicly, could further pressure Washington, Riyadh and others to respond, perhaps even militarily.
Iran denies involvement in the strikes. Iran’s allies in Yemen’s civil war, the Houthi movement, claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Houthis say they struck the plants with drones, some of which were powered by jet engines.
Known for acting on impulse, Trump has adopted an uncharacteristically go-slow approach to whether to hold Iran responsible for attacks on Saudi oil facilities, showing little enthusiasm for confrontation as he seeks re-election next year.
After state-owned Saudi Aramco’s plants were struck on Saturday, Trump didn’t wait long to fire off a tweet that the United States was ‘locked and loaded’ to respond, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran.
But four days later, Trump has no timetable for action.
These satellite photos, revealed by the US government, show the damage caused by the drone attacks
The Abqaiq oil processing facility (pictured on fire) and Khurais oil field in Saudi Arabia were both rocked by explosions Sunday which cut off 5 per cent of the world’s supplies
Donald Trump tweeted Sunday to say that US is ‘locked and loaded depending on verification’, suggesting he was waiting for Riyadh’s confirmation before acting
Instead, he wants to wait and see the results of investigations into what happened and is sending Pompeo to consult counterparts in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week.
‘There’s plenty of time,’ Trump told reporters on Monday.
‘You know, there’s no rush. We’ll all be here a long time. There’s no rush.’
Trump hinted on Tuesday that he preferred a policy of restraint.
In a Twitter thread, the president’s ally, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, said that Iran was guilty of an ‘act of war’ by allegedly attacking the Saudi oil fields.
Saudi Arabia’s Colonel Turki al-Malki said drone strikes against two of his country’s oil facilities at the weekend did not come from Yemen, and pointed the finger directly at Tehran
Graham, a Republican who is known to favor aggressive action against Iran, said that the ‘goal should be to restore deterrence against Iranian aggression which has clearly been lost.’
The senator then mentioned the last time there was heightened tensions with Iran – this past June, when a U.S. drone was shot down by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards above the Strait of Hormuz.
It was widely reported that U.S. fighter jets were in the air ready to retaliate against Iran, but Trump called them back at the last minute.
‘The measured response by President Trump regarding the shooting down of an American drone was clearly seen by the Iranian regime as a sign of weakness,’ Graham tweeted on Tuesday.
But Trump responded to Graham, tweeting: ‘No Lindsey, it was a sign of strength that some people just don’t understand!’
U.S. officials say Trump, who is famously skeptical of his intelligence community, wants to ensure the culprit is positively identified in a way that will pass muster not only with him but with the American people.
‘In responding to the greatest attack on the global oil markets in history, I think not rushing to respond and ensuring everybody is on the same page is where we should be,’ said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Trump’s stance today is in stark contrast to 2017, less than three months into his presidency, when he waited only two days before launching air strikes to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces for a chemical weapons attack.
Trump’s caution reflects the America First world view that found support with his base in the 2016 presidential campaign and that he is trying to promote again as he seeks a second term in 2020.
Pillars of that view are that the Iraq war was a waste of blood and treasure, that the end of the war in Afghanistan is long overdue, and that Washington should be reimbursed for deployment of U.S. troops abroad, from South Korea to Germany.
This photo was taken in January and shows the oil/gas facility’s infrastructure before the attack over the weekend. The damaged areas are highlighted in the squares
The Trump administration released satellite photos on Sunday which it said shows damage to the Saudi oil refinery at Abqaiq on the north or northwest side of the buildings, which would be consistent with an attack from Iran or Iraq
Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former State Department official, said Trump also ‘has grown increasingly cautious as the reality of any military actions increased.’
‘There´s a large constituency the president has that thinks it would be lunacy to go to war against Iran,’ he said.
‘There’s a large part of his base that thinks the craziest thing we could do is committing ourselves to endless wars in the Middle East.’
The attacks on Saudi targets have stymied for now what had been an effort to open talks with Iranian leaders to try to get a sense of whether they were ready to strike a deal on their nuclear and ballistic missile programs in response to economic sanctions that have taken a toll on Iran’s economy.
Trump’s willingness to consider easing sanctions on Iran alarmed his national security adviser, John Bolton, when the president raised the idea at a meeting last Monday, a source close to Bolton said.
By the next day, Bolton was out.
Bolton’s departure removed a central anti-Iran voice from the president’s inner circle.
A well-known foreign policy hawk, Bolton was said to be furious in June when Trump abruptly called off air strikes in response to Iran’s downing of a U.S. drone.
‘If Bolton were there, he would be saying it was definitely Iran (to blame for the Saudi attack) and we need to strike right now,’ said a former senior administration official.