Home International US ‘locked and loaded’ after attack on Saudi oil facilities – Trump

US ‘locked and loaded’ after attack on Saudi oil facilities – Trump

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Trump also authorised the use of the U.S. emergency oil stockpile to ensure stable supplies after the attack.

A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc., shows thick black smoke rising from Saudi Aramco's Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia. Picture: Planet Labs Inc via AP

Washington – U.S. President Donald Trump
said on Sunday the United States was “locked and loaded” for a
potential response to the attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil
facilities, after a senior U.S. administration official said
Iran was to blame.

Trump also authorised the use of the U.S. emergency oil
stockpile to ensure stable supplies after the attack, which shut
5% of world production and sent crude prices soaring more than
19% in early trade on Monday, before moderating to show a 10%
gain.

There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are
locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to
hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of
this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump said
on Twitter.

Earlier in the day, a senior U.S. official told reporters
that evidence from the attack, which hit the world’s biggest
oil-processing facility, indicated Iran was behind it, instead
of the Yemeni Houthi group that had claimed responsibility.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said there was no
evidence the attack came from Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition
has been battling the Houthis for over four years in a conflict
widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite
Muslim rival Iran.

“Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched
an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply,” Pompeo
said.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi dismissed
the U.S. allegations that it was responsible was “pointless”. A
senior Revolutionary Guards commander warned the Islamic
Republic was ready for “full-fledged” war.

“All American bases and their aircraft carriers in a
distance of up to 2,000 kilometres around Iran are within the
range of our missiles,” the semi-official Tasnim news agency
quoted Commander Amirali Hajizadeh as saying.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran were already running
high because of a long-running dispute between the two nations
over Iran’s nuclear program that led the United States to impose
sweeping sanctions.

Oil prices surged as much as 19% in early Asian trade on
Monday on worries over global supply and soaring tensions in the
Middle East.

Brent crude posted its biggest intra-day percentage
gain since the start of the Gulf War in 1991.

State oil giant Saudi Aramco said the attack on Saturday had
cut output by 5.7 million barrels per day.

The U.S. official, who asked not to be named, said on Sunday
there were 19 points of impact in the attack on Saudi facilities
and evidence showed the launch area was west-northwest of the
targets – not south from Yemen.

The official added that Saudi officials indicated they had
seen signs that cruise missiles were used in the attack, which
is inconsistent with the Iran-aligned Houthi group’s claim that
it conducted the attack with 10 drones.

“There’s no doubt that Iran is responsible for this. No
matter how you slice it, there’s no escaping it. There’s no
other candidate,” the official told reporters.

Riyadh has accused Iran of being behind previous attacks on
oil-pumping stations and the Shaybah oil field, charges that
Tehran denies, but has not blamed anyone for Saturday’s strike.
Riyadh also says Tehran arms the Houthis, a charge both deny.

Richard Nephew, a program director at Columbia University’s
Center on Global Energy Policy, said if Iran was responsible for
the attack, it may be as retribution for U.S. sanctions.

“They are making decisions about whether and how to respond
to what they see as a massive attack on their interests from the
U.S. via sanctions by attacking U.S. interests in turn, and
those of U.S. partners they believe are responsible for U.S.
policy,” he said.

Aramco gave no timeline for output resumption. A source
close to the matter told Reuters the return to full oil capacity
could take “weeks, not days”.

Riyadh said it would compensate for the damage at its
facilities by drawing on its stocks, which stood at 188 million
barrels in June, according to official data.

Trump said he had “authorized the release of oil from the
Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, in a to-be-determined
amount sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied.”

Consultancy Rapidan Energy Group said images of the Abqaiq
facility after the attack showed about five of its stabilization
towers appeared to have been destroyed, and would take months to
rebuild – something that could curtail output for a prolonged
period.

“However Saudi Aramco keeps some redundancy in the system to
maintain production during maintenance,” Rapidan added, meaning
operations could return to pre-attack levels sooner.

The Saudi bourse closed down 1.1% on Sunday, with banking
and petrochemical shares taking the biggest hit. Saudi
petrochemical firms announced a significant reduction in
feedstock supplies.

“Abqaiq is the nerve center of the Saudi energy system. Even
if exports resume in the next 24 to 48 hours, the image of
invulnerability has been altered,” Helima Croft, global head of
commodity strategy at RBC Capital Markets, told Reuters.

Some Iraqi media outlets said the attack came from there.
Baghdad denied that on Sunday and vowed to punish anyone using
Iraq, where Iran-backed paramilitary groups wield increasing
power, as a launchpad for attacks.

Kuwait, which borders Iraq, said it was investigating the
sighting of a drone over its territory and coordinating with
Saudi Arabia and other countries.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned Saturday’s
attacks and called on all parties to exercise restraint and
prevent any escalation. The European Union warned the strikes
posed a real threat to regional security, and several nations
urged restraint.

The attack came after Trump said a meeting with Iranian
President Hassan Rouhani was possible at the U.N. General
Assembly in New York this month. Tehran ruled out talks until
sanctions are lifted.

But Trump appeared on Sunday to play down the chances he
might be willing to meet with Iranian officials, saying reports
he would do so without conditions were not accurate.

As recently as last Tuesday, Pompeo said Trump “is prepared
to meet with no preconditions”.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told
Trump that Riyadh was ready to deal with “terrorist aggression”.
A Saudi-led coalition has responded to past Houthi attacks with
air strikes on the group’s military sites in Yemen.

The conflict has been in military stalemate for years. The
Saudi alliance has air supremacy but has come under scrutiny
over civilian deaths and a humanitarian crisis that has left
millions facing starvation.

Reuters