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US and Saudi Arabia step back from military response

Both the US and Saudi Arabia appeared to step back from threatening military action as a response to Saturday’s attack on major Saudi oil facilities.

What happened: on Saturday Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities were hit in a series of attacks. In further developments yesterday the finger was pointed more directly at Iran, while all parties appeared to step back from military action:

  • US President Donald Trump said yesterday, when asked whether Iran was responsible for the strikes, “it’s looking that way”, adding “that’s being checked right now.” But Trump said the US would like to avoid war. He referenced his desire to conduct negotiations, claiming Iranian officials “want to make a deal” and that “at some point it will work out.”
  • The Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, said yesterday he was told by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Iraqi territory “was not used to carry out this attack.”
  • According to the Wall Street Journal, US officials shared with Saudi Arabia the intelligence reports and their assessment that Iran launched more than 20 drones and at least a dozen missiles at the Saudi oil facilities on Saturday.
  • Saudi Arabian officials said insufficient proof was given that the attack was launched from Iran, although the Saudi-led coalition said the weapons used in the attack were Iranian made and dismissed claims that the Houthis were responsible.
  • US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Saudi Arabia shortly.

Context: The initial response from the White House made clear that the US was prepared to respond to the attacks with President Trump saying the US was “locked and loaded” but added that the US was waiting on Saudi Arabia to verify who they believed was behind the attack.

  • The Houthis initially claimed they carried out the attack, but few analysts believe that the Houthis have the capability to conduct these pin point strikes with so many drones and missiles, at least without very significant Iranian assistance
  • Iran denied accusations it was behind the attack, with President Hassan Rouhani telling reporters yesterday that the: “Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defence.”

Looking ahead: The Saudis appear to be very cautious about launching a military response to Saturday’s attack. They announced yesterday that they are going to invite UN experts to investigate the attack and will wait for the results of that investigation before deciding how to respond. Despite the US briefings of Iranian involvement, President Trump appeared to pass the baton to Saudi Arabia when he said he was waiting for them to verify who was behind the attack. President Trump is still searching for a foreign policy success as he heads into the 2020 campaign so a meeting with the Iranian President at the UN is still possible, even if recent events make it less likely.