WASHINGTON/DUBAI – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday said it looked like Iran was behind attacks on oil plants in Saudi Arabia but stressed he did not want to go to war, as the attacks sent oil prices soaring and raised fears of a new Middle East conflict.
Iran has rejected U.S. charges it was behind the strikes on Saturday that damaged the world’s biggest crude-processing plant and triggered the largest jump in crude prices in decades.
Relations between the United States and Iran have deteriorated since Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear accord last year and reimposed sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic programs. Washington also wants to pressure Tehran to end its support of regional proxy forces, including in Yemen where Saudi forces have been fighting Iran-backed Houthis for four years.
The United States was still investigating if Iran was behind the Saudi strikes, Trump said, but “it’s certainly looking that way at this moment”.
Trump, who has spent much of his presidency trying to disentangle the United States from wars he inherited, made clear, however, he was not going to rush into a new conflict on behalf of Saudi Arabia.
“I’m somebody that would like not to have war,” Trump said.
Several U.S. Cabinet members, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, have blamed Tehran for the strikes. Pompeo and others will travel to Saudi Arabia soon, Trump said.
A day after saying the United States was “locked and loaded” to respond to the incident, Trump said on Monday there was “no rush” to do so.
“We have a lot of options but I’m not looking at options right now. We want to find definitively who did this,” he said.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the strikes were carried out by “Yemeni people” retaliating for attacks by a Saudi-led military coalition in a war with the Houthi movement.
“Yemeni people are exercising their legitimate right of defense,” Rouhani told reporters during a visit to Ankara.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi called the allegations “unacceptable and entirely baseless.”
The attacks cut 5% of world crude oil production.
Oil prices surged by as much as 19% after the incidents, the biggest intraday jump since the 1990-91 Gulf crisis over Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Prices retreated from their peak after Trump said he would release U.S. emergency supplies and producers said there were enough stocks globally to make up for the shortfall.
Japan said it will consider coordinated release of its oil reserves and other measures if needed to ensure sufficient supplies in the wake of the attacks.
Crude prices were down around 1% in Asian trade on Tuesday.