President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he ordered a major increase in sanctions on Iran in the latest U.S. move to pressure Tehran, which U.S. officials allege probably carried out a crippling weekend attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Trump gave no explanation in a brief Twitter posting announcing the order, but the move follows repeated U.S. assertions that the Islamic Republic was behind Saturday’s attack on the kingdom, a close U.S. ally.
I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!
This came as Saudi Arabia displayed remnants of drones and missiles it claims were used in attacks on its oil facilities as “undeniable” evidence of Iranian aggression.
Col. Turki al-Malki, Defence Ministry spokesperson, said Iranian Delta Wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) were used in addition to cruise missiles.
“The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” he told a news conference.
But Tehran again denied involvement in Saturday’s attacks on oil plants, including the world’s biggest crude processing facility, that initially knocked out half of Saudi production.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, said Tuesday the 5.7 million barrels per day of output lost would be fully restored by the end of the month. Oil prices fell after the Saudi reassurances, having surged more than 20 per cent at one point on Monday, the biggest jump since the 1991 Gulf War.
“They want to impose maximum … pressure on Iran through slander,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, said according to state media. “We don’t want conflict in the region … Who started the conflict?” he said, blaming Washington and its Gulf allies for war in Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthi movement, an ally of Iran battling a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, has claimed responsibility and said it used drones to assault state oil company Aramco’s sites.
Concrete evidence showing Iranian responsibility, if made public, could pressure Saudi Arabia and Washington into a response, though both nations have stressed the need for caution.
But U.S. President Donald Trump has said he does not want war, there is “no rush” to retaliate, and co-ordination is taking place with Gulf and European states.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and UN officials monitoring sanctions on Iran and Yemen were heading to Saudi Arabia for talks and investigations.
Pompeo will also meet with Salman in Jeddah on Wednesday to co-ordinate efforts against “Iranian aggression,” the U.S. Mission to the United Arab Emirates said.
A senior U.S. official called for a UN Security Council response to the attacks, although success is unlikely because diplomats say Russia and China — who have veto powers — are likely to shield Iran.
While one Saudi security analyst said the attack “is like Sept. 11 for Saudi Arabia, it is a game changer.”
Illustrating global caution over such an inflammatory issue, Japan’s new defence chief said Tokyo has not seen any intelligence that shows Iran was involved in the attack.
France followed suit, indicating it will not rush into commenting on who was behind the attacks, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Wednesday.
Asked whether Paris considered the Saudi and U.S. analysis that Iran was behind the attack to be credible, the spokesperson responded: “We share the desire to carefully establish the facts before making any reaction.”
Earlier in the day, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Paris would send experts to Saudi Arabia to help with investigations into the attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also discussed the weekend attacks by phone with Salman on Wednesday, the Kremlin said.
Putin and the crown prince expressed their commitment to bilateral co-operation on stabilizing global oil prices, and the Russian leader called for a thorough and impartial investigation into the attacks in Saudi Arabia, the Kremlin said.
The Russian president is expected later this year to travel to Saudi Arabia, a traditional U.S. ally in the Middle East.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Wednesday, in a call with South Korea’s leader, that the attack was a “real test of the global will” to confront subversion of international stability, state media reported.
His envoy to London, Prince Khalid bin Bander, told the BBC the attack was “almost certainly” Iranian-backed but,”We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”
Iran-U.S. relations deteriorate
Already-frayed U.S.-Iran ties deteriorated further when Trump quit a nuclear pact between Tehran and the West last year and reimposed sanctions, severely hurting the Iranian economy.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ruled out talks with Washington unless it returns to the pact.
Trump said he is not looking to meet Rouhani during a UN event in New York this month. Rouhani and his foreign minister may not attend the General Assembly at all if U.S. visas are not issued in coming hours, state media reported Wednesday.
Washington and its Gulf allies want Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.
Despite years of airstrikes against them, the Houthi movement boasts drones and missiles able to reach deep into Saudi Arabia, the result of an arms race since the Western-backed coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
Iran’s clerical rulers support the Houthis, who ousted Yemen’s internationally recognized government from power in the capital Sanaa in late 2014. But Tehran denies it actively supports them with military and financial support.