Thursday 17 October, 2019

Iran diplomat warns of 'all-out war' if hit for Saudi attack

Iran's foreign minister warned Thursday that any attack on his country over a drone-and-missile strike on Saudi Arabia's oil industry will result in "all-out war," further pushing up tensions across the Persian Gulf.

The comments by Mohammad Javad Zarif represent the starkest warning offered yet by Iran in a long summer of mysterious attacks and incidents following the collapse of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, over a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord.

Zarif's comments also appeared to be in response to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who a day earlier while travelling to Saudi Arabia referred to the attack as an "act of war."

Asked by CNN what would be the consequence of a US or Saudi strike, Zarif said: "All-out war."

It would cause "a lot of casualties," he stressed.

"I am making a very serious statement that we don't want to engage in a military confrontation," Zarif said. "But we won't blink to defend our territory."

He added that any sanctions placed by the US on Iran after pulling out of the nuclear deal would need to be lifted before any further negotiations could be considered.

"They've done whatever they could and they haven't been able to bring us to our knees," Zarif said.

Pompeo, who had just arrived to the United Arab Emirates, did not immediately respond to Zarif's warning. America's top diplomat met earlier Thursday with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jiddah over Saturday's attack on a crucial oil processing facility and oil field, which halved the kingdom's oil production.

Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed the attack, but the US alleges Iran carried out the assault.

"The US stands with #SaudiArabia and supports its right to defend itself," Pompeo tweeted. "The Iranian regime's threatening behaviour will not be tolerated."

Pompeo did not elaborate. President Donald Trump has been noncommittal on whether he would order US military retaliation. He separately said Wednesday he is moving to increase financial sanctions on Tehran over the attack, without elaborating.

Iran already is subject to a crushing American sanctions program targeting its crucial oil industry.

Pompeo met Abu Dhabi's powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and joined the kingdom in its war in Yemen against the Houthis.

The UAE announced Thursday it had joined a US-led coalition to protect waterways across the Mideast after an attack on Saudi oil installations.

The state-run WAM news agency quoted Salem al-Zaabi of the Emirati Foreign Ministry as saying the UAE joined the coalition to "ensure global energy security and the continued flow of energy supplies to the global economy."

Saudi Arabia joined the coalition on Wednesday. Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom also are taking part.

Pompeo tweeted his appreciation for the UAE and Saudi Arabia joining the coalition.

"Recent events underscore the importance of protecting global commerce and freedom of navigation," he wrote.

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 behind the tanker explosions, though the attacks came after Tehran threatened to stop oil exports from the Persian Gulf.

At a press conference Wednesday, the Saudis displayed broken and burned drones and pieces of a cruise missile that military spokesman Col. Turki Al-Malki identified as Iranian weapons collected after the attack.

He also played surveillance video that he said showed a drone coming in from the north. Yemen is to the south of Saudi Arabia.

Eighteen drones and seven cruise missiles were launched in the assault, Al-Malki said, with three missiles failing to make their targets. He said the cruise missiles had a range of 700 kilometres (435 miles), meaning they could not have been fired from inside Yemen. That opinion was shared by weapons experts who spoke to The Associated Press.

"This is the kind of weapon the Iranian regime and the Iranian IRGC are using against the civilian object and facilities infrastructure," Al-Malki said, referring to Iran's Revolutionary Guard.

He added: "This attack did not originate from Yemen, despite Iran's best effort to make it appear so."

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian similarly was skeptical of the Houthi claim of responsibility.

"This is not very credible, relatively speaking," he told CNews television on Thursday. "But we sent our experts to have our own vision of things."

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