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Pompeo calls Saudi oil field attack 'an act of war,' blames Iran

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with Saudi

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, with Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf, center, on Wednesday at Jeddah Airport, Saudi Arabia. Credit: Saudi Press Agency

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday called the recent strike on Saudi oil fields “an act of war” that he blamed on Iran, as President Donald Trump said his administration was weighing “many options” in response to the attacks, including financial sanctions.

Iran’s top leaders continued to deny involvement in Saturday’s airstrike on a series of oil fields and production facilities in Saudi Arabia, issuing a message to the Trump administration via Swiss intermediaries that warned Iran would retaliate in a “rapid and crushing” manner if the country was attacked, according to foreign media reports.

Trump in a Wednesday morning tweet said he “instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!”

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles as part of a two-day campaign fundraising trip, Trump said he would outline more specifics on the sanctions in the next 48 hours.

"If we have to do something, we'll do it without hesitation,” Trump told reporters when asked if the U.S. will retaliate for the attacks that, according to Saudi officials, have halted the production of nearly 6 million barrels of oil a day.

Trump, appearing alongside his newly appointed national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, a longtime U.S. State Department diplomat, said the U.S. is “in a very powerful position” and warned “there’s plenty of time to do some dastardly things.”

O’Brien, when asked by reporters what advice he would give Trump about the attacks on Saudi Arabia and any possible response against Iran, said, "Any advice I give the president would be something I give him confidentially.”

Yemen’s Houthi rebel group, which is backed by Iran in the group’s four-year battle against Saudi forces in Yemen, has claimed responsibility for the weekend attack, but Pompeo has placed the blame squarely on Iran. Saudi officials on Wednesday also blamed Iran, saying the equipment used in the attack pointed to Iranian involvement.

Pompeo on Wednesday traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with officials there, as Iranian leaders shot down the prospect of diplomatic talks between Iran and the U.S.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in a tweet, said there would be no talks between the two nations “at any level” unless the U.S. rejoins the Obama-era Iran nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from last year. Khamenei said Iran would only engage with the other countries that remain in the deal, including France and Britain.

Trump and U.S. officials had previously floated the prospect of the president meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming UN General Assembly summit in New York next week, but in recent days both Trump and Rouhani’s camp backed off supporting the idea.

Iranian state media said Rouhani was reconsidering his attendance at the annual gathering of world leaders because the U.S. had yet to approve travel visas for the Iranian delegation. Asked about the visas, Trump said he had no issue with the U.S. allowing Rouhani’s delegation to enter the country.

Rouhani, in remarks televised on Iranian TV, said the recent strikes on Saudi oil facilities should be viewed as a warning for Saudi Arabia to withdraw from its years long war with Yemen.

"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.

He insisted Houthi forces were solely responsible for the strikes.

Pompeo, speaking to U.S. reporters before landing in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Wednesday, called the strikes “an act of war.”

"We were blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always risk that that could happen," Pompeo said.

Asked about Pompeo calling the strikes “an act of war,” Trump said he had spoken to him, but stopped short of endorsing his characterization.

“We’ll see what happens. We have many options that we’re considering. There are many options,” Trump said. “There’s the ultimate option, and there are options that are a lot less than that.”

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