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Sept. 15, 2019, 8:05 p.m. EDT

Trump says U.S. ‘locked and loaded’ as Iran blamed for Saudi attack

U.S. says attack came from direction of Iran or Iraq, not Yemen; Iran denies involvement

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By Associated Press

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The state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco, which the kingdom hopes to offer a sliver of in a public stock offering, did not respond to a request for comment.

Pompeo directly blamed Iran for the Saudi attack on Twitter late Saturday, and officials worked to provide evidence for his claim the following day.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo wrote. “There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

The U.S., Western nations, their Gulf Arab allies and U.N. experts say Iran supplies the Houthis with weapons and drones — a charge that Tehran denies.

U.S. officials previously alleged at least one recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia came from Iraq, where Iran backs Shiite militias. Those militias in recent weeks have been targeted themselves by mysterious airstrikes, with at least one believed to have been carried out by Israel.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi on Sunday dismissed Pompeo’s remarks as “blind and futile comments.”

“The Americans adopted the ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran, which, due to its failure, is leaning toward ‘maximum lies,’” Mousavi said in a statement.

Separately, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s office issued a statement on Sunday denying the drone attack came from there. Oil-rich Kuwait also said it would increase security around the country’s “vital sites” over the attacks.

Houthi leader Muhammad al-Bukhaiti reiterated his group’s claim of responsibility, telling The Associated Press on Sunday it exploited “vulnerabilities” in Saudi air defenses to strike the targets. He did not elaborate.

Iran, meanwhile, kept up its own threats.

Hajizadeh, the brigadier general who leads the country’s aerospace program, said in an interview published across Iranian media Sunday that Revolutionary Guard forces were ready for a counterattack if America responded, naming the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as immediate targets, as well as U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

“Wherever they are, it only takes one spark and we hit their vessels, their air bases, their troops,” he said in a video published online with English subtitles.

It wasn’t just Iran making threats. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican close to Trump, suggested retaliatory strikes targeting Iran. “Iran will not stop their misbehavior until the consequences become more real, like attacking their refineries, which will break the regime’s back,” Graham wrote on Twitter.

With the U.N. General Assembly taking place in a little over a week, there had been speculation of a potential meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the summit’s sidelines, possibly in exchange for the lifting of some economic sanctions the American leader imposed on Tehran after unilaterally withdrawing from the nuclear accord over a year ago.

But Trump seemed to reject that idea Sunday night, tweeting: “The Fake News is saying that I am willing to meet with Iran, ‘No Conditions.’ That is an incorrect statement (as usual!).” In fact, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters last week that “the president has said that he is prepared to meet with no conditions.”

If Iran had a hand in Saturday’s attack, it could be to bolster their position ahead of any talks, analysts say.

“The main point for Iran, in my opinion, is not necessarily to derail a meeting between Trump and Rouhani but to increase its leverage ahead of it,” said Michael Horowitz, the head of intelligence at the Bahrain-based risk management firm Le Beck International. “By carrying out such a major attack, Iran wants to send the message that the only way to decrease tensions is to comply with its demands regarding sanctions relief.”

However, he warned there could be a danger of Iran “overplaying” its hand.

“There will be no political benefit for Trump in a meeting with Rouhani if this meeting sends the message that the U.S. simply surrendered to Iranian demands,” he said.

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Miller reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Bassem Mroue in Beirut and Samy Magdy in Cairo contributed to this report.

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