Iran threatens ‘all-out war’
Iran's foreign minister warned on Thursday of an "all-out war" if the US or its Gulf allies launch military strikes in retaliation for the drone-and-missile attacks on Saudi oil sites.
According to the New York Post, Javad Zarif told CNN that Tehran hoped to avoid conflict, adding that the country was willing to hold discussions with its regional rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
But the top Iranian diplomat rejected negotiations with Washington unless the US provided full sanctions relief as promised under the 2015 nuclear deal, which US president Donald Trump pulled out of last year.
Mr Zarif again denied Iran's involvement in weekend attacks on the Saudi oil facilities.
He added that Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels - who have claimed responsibility for the attacks - have the know-how to carry out a sophisticated operation like the one that knocked out half of the kingdom's energy production.
But Mr Zarif was unable to provide proof that Houthis launched the drones and missiles.
"I cannot have any confidence that they did it because we just heard their statement," Mr Zarif told CNN. "I know that we didn't do it. I know that the Houthis made a statement that they did it."
Mr Zarif's comments appeared to be in response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who a day earlier while travelling to Saudi Arabia referred to the attacks as an "act of war."
Asked by CNN what would be the consequence of an American or Saudi strike, Mr Zarif said: "All-out war."
"I make a very serious statement about defending our country. I am making a very serious statement that we don't want to engage in a military confrontation," he said, adding that a military response based on "deception" about the weekend attacks would cause "a lot of casualties."
He added: "But we won't blink to defend our territory."
Mr Pompeo met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jiddah over Saturday's drone and cruise missile attack on a crucial oil processing facility and oilfield.
Met with #Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman today to discuss the unprecedented attacks against Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure. The U.S. stands with #SaudiArabia and supports its right to defend itself. The Iranian regime’s threatening behavior will not be tolerated.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 18, 2019
Calling the attacks "unprecedented," the top US diplomat tweeted: "the US stands with #SaudiArabia and supports its right to defend itself. The Iranian regime's threatening behaviour will not be tolerated."
The U.S. appreciates the announcements by our friends Saudi Arabia and UAE about their participation in the growing International Maritime Security Construct. Recent events underscore the importance of protecting global commerce and freedom of navigation.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) September 19, 2019
Mr Trump has been noncommittal on whether he would order US military retaliation.
On Wednesday, the president said he was moving to increase financial sanctions on Tehran over the attack, without elaborating.
Iran is already subject to a crushing US sanctions program targeting its crucial oil industry.
Mr Pompeo left Jiddah on Thursday heading to the United Arab Emirates to meet with Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
The UAE, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, has joined the kingdom in its war in Yemen against the Houthis.
On Thursday, the UAE announced it had joined a US-led coalition to protect waterways across the Mideast after an attack on Saudi oil installations.
The US formed the coalition after attacks on oil tankers that American officials blame on Iran, as well as Iran's seizure of tankers in the region.
Iran denies being responsible for the tanker explosions, though the attacks came after Tehran threatened to stop oil exports from the Persian Gulf.
This story first appeared in the New York Post and is republished with permission