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All-out war if US or Saudis strike: Iran

The Houthi rebels in Yemen claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday

By Richard Pérez-Peña and Edward Wong/New York Times News Service in New York

  • Published 20.09.19, 12:37 AM
  • Updated 20.09.19, 12:37 AM
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif. AP

A military strike against Iran by the US or Saudi Arabia would result in “an all-out war”, the Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said on Thursday, repeating his government’s denial of responsibility for an attack last week that damaged Saudi oil facilities and hampered the global flow of oil.

The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are supported by Iran in their fight against a Saudi-led coalition, claimed responsibility for the attack on Saturday, but top American officials blamed Iran, and some within the Trump administration are advocating military retaliation.

The administration is still weighing how to react, but President Trump has appeared reluctant to order military action. Asked on Thursday about Zarif’s comments, secretary of state Mike Pompeo said that Trump wanted to find a peaceful path forward.

“We’d like a peaceful resolution, indeed,” he told reporters travelling with him in the UAE before flying back to Washington after a two-day emergency trip. “We’re still striving to build out a coalition. I was here in an act of diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war to fight to the last American.”

Pompeo said the US, which withdrew last year from a nuclear agreement with Iran, planned to impose more sanctions, as Trump announced. “We have set about a course of action to deny Iran the capacity and the wealth to prevent them from conducting their terror campaigns,” Pompeo said. “And you can see from the events of last week there’s more work to do.”

On Wednesday, Pompeo accused Iran of committing an “act of war” with the aerial attacks. Saudi officials also displayed debris from drones and missiles that they said had been used in the attack, citing it as evidence of Iranian complicity while stopping short of directly blaming Tehran.

In an interview with CNN on Thursday, Zarif said, “This is agitation for war, because it’s based on lies; it’s based on deception.” He did not specify what statements about the attacks had been untrue.

“I’m making a very serious statement that we don’t want war; we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” he added. “But we won’t blink to defend our territory.”

As for the Houthis, Zarif said: “I cannot have any confidence that they did it, because we just had their statement. I know that we didn’t do it.”

Analysts for the UN and western governments have said that Iran supplies weapons to the Houthis, including sophisticated missiles and drones that have expanded the rebels’ offensive capabilities. But Pompeo said on Wednesday that intelligence gathered by the US over the years did not show that Iran had supplied the Houthis with the kinds of weapons used in the September 14 attack, which meant, he said, that the Houthis’ claim of responsibility was a misdirection effort.

“The intelligence community has high confidence that these were not weapons that would have been in the possession of the Houthis,” he said.

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