Saudi oil attacks came from southwest Iran, U.S. official says, raising tensions
18/09/2019 10:05, Riyadh/Saudi Arabia

(TAP) - The United States believes the attacks that crippled Saudi Arabian oil facilities last weekend originated in southwestern Iran, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, an assessment that further increases tension in the Middle East.

Three officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the attacks involved both cruise missiles and drones, indicating that they involved a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.

The officials did not provide evidence or explain what U.S. intelligence they were using for the evaluations. Such intelligence, if shared publicly, could further pressure Washington, Riyadh and others to respond, perhaps even militarily.

Saudi state television said the Saudi Defence Ministry will hold a media conference on Wednesday that will show evidence of Iran's involvement in the Aramco attacks, including the use of Iranian weapons.

Iran denies involvement in the strikes. Iran's allies in Yemen's civil war, the Houthi movement, claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Houthis say they struck the plants with drones, some of which were powered by jet engines.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday said it looked as if Iran - which has a long history of friction with neighbor Saudi Arabia - was behind the attacks.

But in a sign that U.S. allies remain unconvinced, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was unsure if anyone had any evidence to say whether drones "came from one place or another."

Saudi Arabia sought to reassure markets after the attack on Saturday halved oil output, saying on Tuesday that full production would be restored by month's end.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday ruled out talks with the United States unless the Trump administration returns to the nuclear accord between Iran and the West that the United States abandoned last year.

"Iranian officials, at any level, will never talk to American officials ... this is part of their policy to put pressure on Iran," Iranian state TV quoted him as saying.

Trump on Tuesday said he is not looking to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a U.N. event in New York this month.

U.S.-Iran relations deteriorated after Trump quit the nuclear pact and reimposed sanctions over Tehran's nuclear and ballistic programmes, severely hurting the Iranian economy. Trump also wants Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including Yemen's Houthis.

Iran's clerical rulers openly support the Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, but Tehran denies that it actively supports the Yemeni group with military and financial support.

Despite years of air strikes against them, the Houthi militia boasts drones and missiles able to reach deep into Saudi Arabia, the result of an armament campaign pursued and expanded energetically since Yemen's war began four years ago.

Another senior Trump administration official said the Houthi claim to have used 10 drones in the attacks was undercut by the fact that Abqaiq was struck at least 17 times. The second location, he added, was hit at least twice by precision-guided munitions.

"The Houthi claim does not stand up to scrutiny," said the U.S. official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity and said the Houthis had never used the type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, that was employed in the attacks.

Strains between Washington and Tehran have risen more in recent months after attacks on tankers in the Gulf that the United States blames on Tehran, and Iran's downing of a U.S. military drone that prompted preparations for a retaliatory air strike that Trump says he called off at the last minute.

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