Pompeo heads to Saudi Arabia as Middle East tensions grow – NBC News
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Saudi Arabia Wednesday as tensions in the Middle East continue to rise four days after oilfields and a processing plant in the kingdom were attacked, an action American officials believe originated from Iranian territory.
The U.S. Mission to the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) confirmed Pompeo will meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah “to discuss the recent attack on the Kingdom’s oil facilities and coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region.”
He then travels to Abu Dhabi in the U.A.E.
Pompeo’s visit comes as:
• Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saudi Arabia should see the attack on its oil facilities this weekend as a warning to end the war in Yemen, while insisting the attack came from Yemeni forces.
• Saudi Arabia’s Defence Ministry will present evidence it says proves Iran’s involvement in the attack later on Wednesday, Reuters reported.
• Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the attack, who “called for a thorough and objective investigation of the incident,” the Kremlin said.
• President Donald Trump tweeted that he had instructed Steven Mnuchin, secretary to the Treasury, to “substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!”
Rouhani made Wednesday’s comments at a cabinet meeting in Tehran and also blamed other members a Saudi-led coalition, which has been battling Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels since March 2015, for the violence in the region.
In the video released by state TV, Rouhani did not address allegations that Iran was behind the attack on one of the world’s largest oil processing facilities and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco last weekend.
“The Yemeni people showed a reaction, they hit a location, they did not hit hospitals, so why are you upset? They did not hit schools, they did not hit the Sanaa bazaar, they attacked an industrial site to warn you,” Rouhani said.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo swiftly blamed Tehran directly.
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NBC News reported Tuesday that the attack involved a series of low-altitude cruise missiles fired from at least one location in the western region of the country, according to two U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence.
Three U.S. officials previously told NBC News there was extremely compelling evidence showing the origination point of the strikes, and one official with direct knowledge described that evidence as imagery.
U.S. officials and others briefed on the deliberations have also told NBC News that the Trump administration is weighing a range of options for a retaliatory action against Iran, including a cyberattack or physical strike on Iranian oil facilities or Revolutionary Guard assets.
In a national security meeting on Monday, U.S. military leaders provided President Donald Trump with a menu of possible actions against Iran. But the president, seeking a narrowly focused response that wouldn’t draw the U.S. into broader military conflict with Iran, asked for more options, people briefed on the meeting said.
There were no indications that any U.S. military action was imminent, and officials said that no decision has been made.
Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman announced Tuesday that oil production capacity at the affected plants would be fully restored by the end of the month, alleviating fears of a major oil market disruption after brent crude futures soared Monday.
Saudi Aramco President & CEO Amin Nasser said the synchronized attacks were timed to create “maximum damage” to Saudi facilities and operations. It was estimated the attack knocked out 5.7 million barrels of daily oil production, or more than five percent of the global daily crude production.
Meanwhile, any hopes of a diplomatic solution to resolve tensions in the region dissipated Tuesday when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said no talks would take place between Iran and the U.S. “at any level,” in comments that appeared to end all speculation about a potential U.S.-Iran meeting at the United Nations later this month.
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Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday that members of President Rouhani’s delegation to the U.N. have not been granted U.S. visas yet, and the president may not attend the U.N. assembly at all if the matter is not resolved.
Khamenei tweeted Tuesday that if the U.S. “repents” and returns to the nuclear deal that it withdrew from last year “then it can join and talk with Iran among other members of the deal.”
The 2015 accord was originally agreed by Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
“Otherwise no negotiation will take place between Islamic Republic and U.S. officials at any level, whether in New York or anywhere else,” he said.
Relations between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated after President Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran last year and reimposed sanctions on its oil exports.
President Donald Trump tweeted Sunday that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” and ready to respond once it determines who was behind the attack and had conferred with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi ambassador to the U.K., Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Al-Saud, told the BBC Wednesday the attack was “almost certainly Iranian-backed.”
However, the ambassador said they were trying “not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”
State Department issued a travel advisory for Saudi Arabia Tuesday urging “increased caution” for those travelling to the country “due to terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets.”
It said terrorists may attack “with little or no warning,” targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, shopping malls and local government facilities.
Ali Arouzi reported from Doha. Yuliya Talmazan and Saphora Smith from London.
Charlene Gubash contributed.
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