By Tuqa Khalid and Stephen Kalin
DUBAI/JEDDAH (Reuters) – Iran warned U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday against being dragged into all-out war in the Middle East following an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities which Washington and Riyadh blame on Tehran.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described the weekend strike that initially halved Saudi oil output as an act of war and has been discussing possible retaliation with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf allies.
Trump on Wednesday struck a cautious note, saying there were many options short of war with Iran, which denies involvement in the Sept. 14 strikes. He ordered more sanctions on Tehran.
Iran’s foreign minister responded by telling CNN that the Islamic Republic “won’t blink” if it has to defend itself against any U.S. or Saudi military strike, which he said would lead to “all-out war”.
Mohammed Javad Zarif said Pompeo was part of a so-called “B-team”, which Tehran says includes Saudi Arabia’s crown prince and is trying to dupe Trump into opting for war.
Pompeo said on Wednesday the attack was an act of war against the Saudis.
Riyadh, which called the assault a “test of global will”, on Wednesday displayed what it described as remnants of 25 Iranian drones and missiles used in the strike, saying it was undeniable evidence of Iranian aggression.
BUILDING A COALITION
The United Arab Emirates on Thursday followed its ally Saudi Arabia in announcing it was joining a global maritime security coalition that Washington has been trying to build since a series of explosions on oil tankers in Gulf waters in recent months that were also blamed on Tehran.
Pompeo, who arrived in the UAE from Saudi Arabia on Thursday, welcomed the move on Twitter: “Recent events underscore the importance of protecting global commerce and freedom of navigation.”
Britain and Bahrain previously said they are participating but most European countries have been reluctant to sign up for fear of stoking regional tensions. Iraq said it would not join the mission, and also rejected any Israeli role in it.
Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which is battling a Saudi-led military coalition, claimed responsibility for the assault on two Saudi oil plants, including the world’s largest processing facility. U.S. and Saudi officials rejected the claim, saying the attack had not come from the south.
Kuwait, which said earlier this week it was investigating the detection of a drone over its territory, has put its oil sector on high alert and raised security to the highest level as a precautionary measure.
Oil prices, which soared following the attack, steadied after Saudi Arabia pledged to restore full oil production by the end of September. [O/R]
U.N. MEETING IN FOCUS
Proof of Iranian responsibility and evidence that the attack was launched from Iranian territory could pressure Riyadh and Washington, which want to curb Iranian influence in the region, into a response.
Pompeo said the attacks would be a major focus of next week’s annual U.N. General Assembly meeting and suggested Riyadh could make its case there.
Iran’s Zarif accused Pompeo of trying to “dodge a U.S. obligation” to issue visas for Iran’s U.N. delegates.
Tehran says the U.S. accusations were part of Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy on Iran to force it to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which Trump exited last year, reimposing sanctions to choke off Iran’s oil exports.
Tehran, which has gradually scaled back its nuclear commitments, has rejected any talks unless sanctions are lifted.
“The United States is now using oil as a weapon; oil is not a weapon,” Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said.
France, which is trying to salvage the deal, said the New York gathering presented a chance to de-escalate tensions.
“When missiles hit another country it is an act of war, but we have to go back to the principle of de-escalation,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. “There is an international investigation, let’s wait for its results.”
(Reporting by Tuqa Khalid and Stephen Kalin; Additional reporting by Mahal El Dahan, Nafisa Eltahir, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Rania El Gamal and Dubai newsroom, Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris, Michelle Martin in Berlin, Julia Payne and Dmitry Zhdannikov in London, John Davison and Mohammed Katfan in Baghdad, Ahmed Tolba and Samar Hassan in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Giles Elgood)