Friday, 17 January, 2020

Iran rejects US blame for Saudi Aramco attacks as ‘pointless,’

Iran is refuting U.S. allegations that it was behind drone attacks on two massive Saudi oil plants Saturday, with its foreign minister accusing his American counterpart of “deceit” while suggesting talks to get out of the conflict.

“Having failed at ‘max pressure’, @SecPompeo’s turning to ‘max deceit’,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter Sunday afternoon, referring to the President Donald Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” policy of sanctions on Iran to end what it calls its malign regional behavior.

“Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ’15 proposal to end war & begin talks may,” Zarif added.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said earlier on Sunday that “Such useless accusations… are meaningless and not comprehensible and are pointless.”

Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the pre-dawn attacks, which took place around 4:00 a.m. local time and amount to the biggest attack carried on Saudi oil infrastructure since Saddam Hussein’s scud missile attacks during the first Gulf War.

The kingdom subsequently halted half of its oil production, or 5.7 million barrels of crude oil per day — that’s close to half of its output, or 5% of global oil supply. Officials at Saudi Aramco, the kingdom’s state oil giant and the world’s largest company, say their assessment of the damage is ongoing but are likely to deliver a report on Monday.

Oil prices are expected to spike when markets open as the facilities that were hit — particularly Abqaiq, which has a crude oil processing capacity of 7 million barrels per day (bpd) — represent the heartbeat of the country’s energy infrastructure.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has put the blame for the attacks squarely on Iran, saying on Twitter that “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply… There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

A number of analysts have also rejected the Houthis’ involvement in the attacks, suggesting they were launched by Iranian-backed proxy militias based in Iraq. Baghdad denies its territory played any role in the attacks.

Tehran has provided material support to the Houthis, who have been engaged in a bloody war with Saudi Arabia since Riyadh launched an offensive in Yemen in 2015. The conflict is often described as a proxy war between the Sunni kingdom and the Islamic Republic, though the Houthis are far from completely aligned with Iran.

Washington provides intelligence and logistics support to the Saudis for their operations in Yemen, something many members of Congress have voted to end.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. and fears of a new war in the Middle East have been rising since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and re-imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran in an attempt to push it into a more stringent deal involving broader security concessions.

In May and June, six foreign tankers were hit in alleged sabotage attacks that the U.S. government has blamed on Iranian forces, a charge Tehran denies. Iran on June 20 shot down a U.S. surveillance drone it says was flying over its territory, prompting a planned U.S. military strike on Iranian military targets that Trump says he called off with 10 minutes to spare.

Iran since June has been incrementally rolling back its obligations under the 2015 deal, stepping up its uranium enrichment and using advanced centrifuges that bring it closer to bomb-making capability.

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