US 'locked and loaded' to hit back after Saudi oil strikes, as Iran slams 'blind accusations'
The US Government released imagery which it said showed the results of the drone attacks (AP via DigitalGlobe/US Government)
United States President Donald Trump says his country is “locked and loaded” to respond to attacks which inflicted serious damage on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure over the weekend.
- Drones attacked Saudi oil plants on Saturday, starting huge fires and slashing production by half
- Yemen’s Tehran-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, but the US blames Iran
- Asian oil prices rose by 10 per cent on Monday
It is the first time the President has hinted at a potential American military response to the drone attacks, which slashed Saudi oil production by half and led both the kingdom and the United States to announce they may tap their strategic reserves.
“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!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, claimed responsibility for Saturday’s strikes, which targeted two plants owned by state energy giant Aramco.
But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed the finger squarely at Tehran, saying there was no evidence the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” was launched from Yemen.
“The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression,” Mr Pompeo said.
The US accusations triggered angry retorts from Iran, which said they were designed to act as a pretext for future hostile actions against the Islamic Republic.
“Such fruitless and blind accusations and remarks are incomprehensible and meaningless,” foreign ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi said.
Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year, when Mr Trump pulled the US out of a landmark 2015 deal with world powers that promised Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.
‘Genie is out of the bottle’
A satellite image shows black smoke rising from one of the attacked Saudi oil facilities. (Planet Labs Inc, AP)
The Houthis have staged repeated cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for the Riyadh-led bombing campaign on rebel-held areas in Yemen.
While Saudi Arabia has spent billions of dollars on military hardware, recent events have underscored the vulnerability of its infrastructure to attack.
Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said the kingdom is “willing and able” to respond to “terrorist aggression”.
Following a phone call between Mr Trump and Prince Mohammed, the White House condemned the attacks on “infrastructure vital to the global economy.”
Oil prices soared by 10 per cent in early Asia trading on Monday, while Saudi Arabia focused on restoring production at the plants.
The US Government also released images purporting to show the attack’s aftermath. (AP: DigitalGlobe/US Government)
The strike abruptly halted 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) or about 6 per cent of the world’s oil supply.
“The genie is out of the bottle,” Bill Farren-Price, director of the London-based RS Energy Group, said.
“It is now clear that Saudi and other Gulf oil facilities are vulnerable to this kind of attack, which means that the geopolitical risk premium for oil needs to rise.”
No casualties were reported but the full extent of the damage was not clear.
Aramco also said it would dip into its reserves to offset the disruption.
CEO Amin Nasser said work was underway to restore production, but the incident could affect investor confidence ahead of Aramco’s stock market debut.