What’s the end game here? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has just arrived in Jeddah for talks with Saudi leaders over a response to the weekend attacks on two of the kingdom’s major oil facilities.
After a prior press conference by the Saudi Defense Ministry where it for the first time assigned public blame on Iran for the attacks which initially knocked out half of the kingdom’s daily oil output, saying the air attacks “unquestionably” had Iranian state sponsorship, Pompeo has announced the Aramco attacks constitute an “act of war” by Iran.
— Anna Ahronheim (@AAhronheim) September 18, 2019
And President Trump himself said Wednesday from the White House that it looks like Iran did it but that he still hopes to avoid war.
He announced via a statement on Twitter that, “I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!” — in what appears an alternative to launching a military response.
“I’m not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to,” Trump told reporters Wednesday.
Pompeo’s new “act of war” declaration indeed takes the potential for escalation right back to boiling point.
Pompeo is in Jeddah where he’s expected to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to evaluate a possible response and to “coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region,” according to a State Department statement.
“We were blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always risk that that could happen,” Pompeo said. “This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before,” he added later speaking to reporters off-camera just before landing in Jeddah.
Meanwhile, if the ‘military option’ is being considered, it appears we could be in the beginning phases of an international coalition response. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he and Trump held a phone call to discuss the need for a “united diplomatic response from international partners” after the Aramco attacks.
The fact that Johnson’s statement included the word “diplomatic” – along with Trump’s emphasis on extending stronger sanctions – is a good sign however, that the White House is not prepping for war.
Below is the transcript of Pompeo’s statements where he described “an Iranian attack” that was an “act of war” via CNN:
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He said US intelligence has “high confidence” the Houthis do not possess the advanced weapons used in the attacks and that the operation originated in Iran:
“As for how we know, the equipment used is unknown to be in the Houthi arsenal,” he said. “These line attack cruise missiles we have never seen there and we think we’ve seen most everything. So the intelligence community has high confidence that these were not weapons that would have been in the possession of the Houthis. That’s probably the most important piece of information.”
“We also know that these are systems that the Iranians have not deployed anyplace else, that they have not deployed outside of their country to the best of our knowledge. We’ve not seen them deploy these types of UAV systems with the kinds of ranges and capabilities nor have we seen them place these missiles where they could have done it. We’ve seen no evidence that it came from Iraq. It could have well have traveled over Kuwait — we’ve not seen that,” Pompeo said.
He called the Houthis “liars” and emphasized they are not independent from Iran but should be viewed as Tehran’s direct proxy:
“Whenever you report about them, and you say, ‘The Houthis said,’ you should say ‘The well known frequently lying Houthis have said the following.’ This is important because you ought not report them as if these truth-tellers, as if these are people who aren’t completely under the boot of the Iranians and who would not, at the direction of the Iranians, lay claim to attacks that they did not engage in. Which clearly was the case here,” Pompeo said. “So there you go, whenever you say Houthis, you should begin with, ‘the well-known, frequently known to lie Houthis,’ and then you can write whatever it is they say. And that’d be good reporting (laughter) and I know you care deeply about that good reporting.”