DUBAI (AFP/Reuters) – The US wants a peaceful solution to the crisis sparked by attacks on Saudi oil installations, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, after Iran raised the spectre of all-out war.
Pompeo has blamed Iran for the dramatic weekend assault on two facilities, condemning an “act of war” which knocked out half the kingdom´s oil production.
The rhetoric has raised the risk of an unpredictable escalation in a tinderbox region where Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-old struggle for dominance.
After meeting with allies in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi, Pompeo said there was an “enormous consensus in the region” that Iran carried out the attacks, despite its denials and Yemeni rebels´ claims that they were responsible.
But Pompeo said the US was intent on finding a way out of the confrontation. “We´d like a peaceful resolution. I think we´ve demonstrated that,” he told reporters. “I hope the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier warned any US or Saudi military strike on Iran could lead to all-out war. “We don´t want war,” he told CNN in an interview aired Thursday, but we won’t blink to defend our territory.
US building coalition after oil attack
The US says it was building a coalition to deter Iranian threats following a weekend attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.
Iran has warned US President Donald Trump against being dragged into a war in the Middle East and said it would meet any offensive action with a crushing response.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that Trump, who has ordered more sanctions on Iran, wants a peaceful solution to the crisis. He was speaking after talks with Saudi and Emirati leaders over the strike that Washington and Riyadh have blamed on Tehran.
Iran denies involvement in the Sept 14 attack that initially halved Saudi oil output and which Pompeo earlier called an “act of war” against the world’s largest oil exporter.
Pompeo appeared to soften his tone on Thursday after talks with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, which is Riyadh’s main Arab ally.
“We are here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution. That’s my mission, that’s what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it that way,” Pompeo told reporters.
He did not provide details about the coalition. The United States has however been trying to create a global maritime security alliance since attacks on oil tankers in Gulf waters, which Washington also blamed on Iran.
UAE, Saudi Arabia, Britain and Bahrain have said they will participate. Iraq said it would not join, and most European countries have been reluctant to sign up for fear of stoking regional tensions.
Pompeo described his proposed coalition as “an act of diplomacy” while Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, told CNN on Thursday 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”.
Later on Friday, Zarif called Kuwait’s foreign minister Sheikh Sabah al Khalid Al Sabah where the two discussed measures to de-escalate tensions in the region, state news agency KUNA reported.
UN MEETING IN FOCUS
Proof of Iranian responsibility for the Saudi attacks could provoke a response from Riyadh and Washington, which want to curb Iranian influence in the region.
Pompeo said the attacks would be a major focus of next week’s annual UN General Assembly meeting and suggested Riyadh could make its case there.
The US issued visas allowing Rouhani and Zarif to travel to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, Iranian UN mission spokesman Alireza Miryousefi confirmed to Reuters.
Zarif is to leave for New York on Friday to attend the General Assembly, the ministry spokesman tweeted on Thursday, after earlier reports of a US delay in issuing a visa for the visit.
Tehran says the US accusations are 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 US is now using oil as a weapon; oil is not a weapon,” Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said.