US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that America backs Saudi Arabia’s “right to defend itself” after weekend attacks targeted the heart of its oil industry, comments coming after he described the assault as an “act of war.”
The attacks have reignited fears over a wider conflagration in the region, as tensions remain high over Iran’s collapsing nuclear deal with world powers.
Pompeo’s comments on Twitter came as he was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s defense minister. The Saudis on Wednesday displayed missile and drone wreckage and cited other evidence they alleged shows the raid was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran.”
Iran, which has denied involvement in the attacks, warned the US it will retaliate immediately if it is targeted.
Pompeo wrote his tweet early Thursday after his meeting with Prince Mohammed over Saturday’s drone and cruise missile attacks on a crucial oil processing facility and oil field. Yemen’s Iranian-backed Houthi rebels have claimed the attacks, but the US alleges Iran carried out the assault.
Pompeo called the attacks “unprecedented.”
“The US stands with #SaudiArabia and supports its right to defend itself,” Pompeo said. “The Iranian regime’s threatening behavior 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 attacks, without elaborating. Iran already is subject to a crushing American sanctions program targeting its crucial oil industry.
Pompeo was to next visit the United Arab Emirates to meet with 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.
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.