US ‘locked and loaded’ after Saudi attacks as oil prices surge

 

 

President Donald Trump said Sunday the United States is “locked and loaded” to respond to attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure that Washington blamed on Iran, which have sent oil prices soaring.

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.

“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. 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!” Trump tweeted.

The Tehran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, claimed Saturday’s strikes on 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,” the top US diplomat said.

That drew an angry response from Tehran, where foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such fruitless and blind accusations and remarks are incomprehensible and meaningless.”

The remarks were designed to damage Iran’s reputation and provide a pretext for “future actions” against the Islamic republic, he added.

Baghdad, caught between its two main allies — Tehran and Washington — also denied any link to the attacks amid media speculation that the drones were launched from Iraq.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said the kingdom is “willing and able” to respond to this “terrorist aggression.”

But a tit-for-tat strike on Iranian oil fields is “highly unlikely,” Middle East expert James Dorsey told AFP.

“The Saudis do not want an open conflict with Iran. The Saudis would like others to fight that war, and the others are reluctant,” said Dorsey, from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

‘Genie is out of the bottle’

Oil prices soared by 10% in early Asia trading on Monday, while Saudi Arabia focused on restoring production at the plants.

Saturday’s explosions set off fires that engulfed the Abqaiq plant, the world’s largest oil processing facility, and nearby Khurais, which hosts a massive oil field.

Saudi’s energy infrastructure has been hit by the Huthis many times before, but this strike was of a different order, abruptly halting 5.7-million barrels per day (bpd) or about 6% of the world’s oil supply.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Bill Farren-Price, director of the London-based RS Energy Group.

“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 will dip into its reserves to offset the disruption. On Saturday, CEO Amin Nasser said that “work is underway” to restore production, but the incident could affect investor confidence ahead of Aramco’s stock market debut.

A significant volume of oil production can be restored within days but the company would need weeks to reach full output again, Bloomberg News reported Sunday, citing unnamed sources.

Trump tweeted that he had “authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, in a to-be-determined amount” that is “sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied.”

The president also “informed all appropriate agencies to expedite approvals of the oil pipelines currently in the permitting process in Texas and various other States,” without naming specific projects.

Loggerheads

Following a phone call between Trump and Prince Mohammed, the White House condemned the attacks on “infrastructure vital to the global economy.”

Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year, when 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.

Despite the US accusation, the White House said on Sunday Trump may still meet his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the upcoming United Nations assembly.

Saudi Arabia has spent billions on military hardware but recent events have underscored the vulnerability of its infrastructure to attack.

The Huthis have staged repeated cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what they say is retaliation for the Riyadh-led bombing campaign on rebel-held areas in Yemen.

© Agence France-Presse

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

W.G. Dunlop
Wg Dunlop
Editor for @AFP in DC. Six years in Iraq, also reported from the Gulf, Levant & North Africa. Usual caveats.
Anuj Chopra
Guest Author

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

Magashule snubs former presidents Mbeki and Motlanthe

Magashule fails to meet former presidents Mbeki and Motlanthe as he runs out of options

‘Suspicious’ tech company EOH must pay back millions

EOH allegedly inflated prices of Microsoft licences, which could have been bought by the defence department for a third of the cost

More top stories

JSC won’t axe Hlophe from selection panel

The commission has dismissed three requests not to proceed with interviews for candidates for the Western Cape high court

SIU targets 15 in master of high court

As the Special Investigating Unit starts pushing for criminal and disciplinary cases, officials in the master’s offices start revealing crucial evidence

Rhodes Memorial Fire: a week of devastation, loss and heartache

Students, alumni and staff share their memories and thoughts after blaze leaves a path of devastation at the UCT and its Jagger Reading Room

Cape fire devastation reinforces consequences of defence budget cuts

All the available resources from the private sector needed to be exhausted before the Air Force could be called in to assist in dousing in the flames
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…