Iran denies attacking Saudi oil sites but prepared for 'full-fledged war'

John Bacon, USA TODAY

Tensions in the Middle East rose to new heights Sunday as Iran denied involvement in high-stakes drone strikes on key Saudi Arabian oil facilities, warned of its military might and derided "maximum deceit" by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who blamed Iran for the attacks.

Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for strikes on the world's largest oil processing facility and a major oil field Saturday. The installations, operated by state-owned Saudi Aramco, produce more than half of the country's crude oil.

Pompeo said the Iranian government was behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while its leaders "pretend" to engage in diplomacy.

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"Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply," Pompeo said. "We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran's attacks."

Smoke fills the sky at the Abqaiq oil processing facility on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019 in Saudi Arabia. Drones claimed by Yemen's Houthi rebels attacked the world's largest oil processing facility in Saudi Arabia and a major oilfield operated by Saudi Aramco early Saturday, sparking a huge fire at a processor crucial to global energy supplies.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called the attack "a real threat to regional security." Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, said the group's foreign ministers expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia. France and Turkey were among individual nations to condemn the attacks.

Pompeo and the West have long accused Iran of arming the Houthis. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said Sunday that the U.S. "maximum pressure" policy toward his nation has devolved to a "maximum lie."

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Pompeo of "maximum deceit."

"U.S. & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory," Zarif tweeted. "Blaming Iran won't end disaster. Accepting our ... proposal to end war & begin talks may."

The attacks came amid speculation that President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could meet next week when the United Nations General Assembly draws leaders from around the world to New York. White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, speaking on Fox News Sunday, did not dismiss the possibility.

Conway also said Trump had "many options" to retaliate for the attacks.

Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, a Houthi rebel leader, told the Associated Press the U.S. claims that Iran was behind the attack reflected “political bankruptcy” of the Trump administration. He said the rebels were able to exploit "vulnerabilities" in Saudi air defense systems.

Pompeo said there was no evidence the attacks came from Yemen but did not provide proof the attacks came from Iran. Still, he promised that Iran would be held accountable for the "aggression."

Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the the Iranian Revolutionary Guard's aerospace force, warned Sunday that U.S. military assets in the Middle East were within striking distance of Iran's military.

“We have been constantly preparing ourselves for a full-fledged war,” Hajizadeh told the Tehran Times.

Tensions in the region have been rising since Trump rebuked and later withdrew from a global nuclear deal that had eased crippling economic sanctions on Iran. Iran has responded by seizing oil tankers and shooting down a U.S. drone.

The weekend attacks resulted in a suspension of production at Abqaiq and Khurais plants, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in a statement carried by Saudi Press Agency. It led to the interruption of about half the kingdom's total production, he said.

That is about 5% of the world's daily oil production, although the prince said his nation would supplement supplies with reserves.

Aramco CEO Amin Nasser said no one was injured in the attacks. He said work was underway to restore production, and a progress update would be provided in the next two days.

Trump discussed the attacks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a phone call Saturday to "offer his support for Saudi Arabia's self-defense," according to White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere.

Contributing: Doug Stanglin

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Saudi attack: Iran denies involvement, rips US 'maximum deceit'