U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday he is “substantially” increasing economic sanctions against Iran in the wake of last weekend’s missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields that Washington says were launched by Tehran.
Trump, on Twitter, said he had directed Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to stiffen existing sanctions against Iran that American officials say have already hobbled its economy, but gave no details of the new penalties.
Trump’s order came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traveled Wednesday to Jeddah to meet with Saudi officials on how to respond to the attack that knocked out half of the Saudis’ oil production, a hit that temporarily cut nearly 6% of the global oil supply.
At a news conference, Saudi officials displayed what they said were remnants of 25 unmanned Iranian Delta Wing drones and “Ya Ali” cruise missiles they have retrieved from the oil facilities that were attacked.
Defense Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said, “The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran. The evidence … that you have seen in front of you makes this undeniable.”
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported Wednesday that the government sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. denying involvement in the Saudi oil field attacks and warned that if any actions are taken against Iran, it will respond immediately.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have claimed responsibility for the Saturday strikes. But U.S. officials say the available evidence is showing that is not possible.
“Our working assumption is that this did not come from Yemen or Iraq,” a U.S. defense official told VOA on Tuesday, adding that a U.S. forensic team is on the ground working with the Saudis to examine the remnants of the missiles.
“We think that evidence will be compelling,” the official added.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that Yemenis carried out the attack as a “warning” to Saudi Arabia over its involvement leading a coalition fighting the Houthis. Human rights groups have criticized Saudi-led airstrikes for devastating civilian areas and worsening what is one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Rouhani said the Yemenis “did not hit hospitals, they did not hit schools or the Sanaa bazaar,” and that the Saudis should “learn the lesson from this warning.”
The Iranian president did not directly speak to allegations his government was responsible for the strikes, but said he does not want conflict in the region.
U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford told reporters in London that Saturday’s attack looked different from those previously carried out by the Houthi rebels.
He said the United States does not have any overhead imagery of the attacks, and that it will let the Saudis make their own assessment of what happened.
Meanwhile, Saudi’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, announced Tuesday that half of the oil production cut by the attacks has been restored and that the kingdom expects to be producing 11 million barrels a day by the end of September, compared to 9.6 million before the attacks.
Trump has offered mixed signals about a possible response to the attack on Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally.
“I’m not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to,” he said. “That was a very large attack, and it could be met by an attack many, many times larger.”
“Certainly, it would look to most like it was Iran,” he concluded.
Talks with Iran
With U.S. officials focusing on Iran as the culprit, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday dismissed the possibility of negotiating with Washington over its nuclear program unless the U.S. returned to the 2015 international pact that restrained Iran’s nuclear weapons program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions against Iran.
In withdrawing the U.S. from the accord last year, Trump reimposed sanctions. There had been suggestions in recent days that Trump could meet next week with Rouhani when both are at the annual United Nations General Assembly.
“Iranian officials, at any level, will never talk to American officials,” Khamenei said, adding that Trump’s attempt to link Iran to the drone attacks was “part of their policy to put pressure on Iran.”
Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb, National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin and Katherine Ahn of VOA’s Persian Service contributed to this report.