WASHINGTON – A day after threatening an armed response over an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, President Donald Trump said Monday that it looks as if Iran was responsible – but he doesn't want war.
"Well, it’s looking that way,” Trump said when asked whether Iran is responsible for the missile and drone strikes this weekend on a major source of oil for the Saudis and the world. “As soon as we find out definitively, we'll let you know. But it does look that way."
Trump said he doesn't want war with Iran, but the United States is "more prepared" for conflict than any other country in history. He said it has the best weapons systems, including fighter jets, rockets and missiles.
"With all of that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid it," Trump said before meeting with the crown prince of Bahrain, with whom he discussed Iran and other Middle East issues.
Iran denied it was involved in the attack and said it would defend itself against any kind of military action, from the United States, the Saudis or anyone else.
Trump said his administration is consulting with Saudi Arabia, but the Saudis would not direct U.S. actions. "We will work something out with them," he said, adding that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials will soon travel there.
The United States has a lot of options on Iran, Trump said, including more economic sanctions, though diplomacy was not "exhausted."
In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs said its "initial investigations have indicated that the weapons used in the attack were Iranian weapons. Investigations are still ongoing to determine the source of the attack."
A day after saying the United States was "locked and loaded" in case a response was needed, Trump said Monday that the country does not need Middle East oil production.
"Because we have done so well with Energy over the last few years (thank you, Mr. President!), we are a net Energy Exporter, & now the Number One Energy Producer in the World," Trump wrote on Twitter. "We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!"
In a later tweet, Trump referred to an incident over the summer in which Iran shot down a U.S. drone it said had invaded its airspace. “They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie,” Trump said. “Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”
In June, Trump ordered a military strike on Iran but changed his mind at the last minute and said the loss of Iranian lives would not have been proportionate to the destruction of an American drone.
Iran insisted the drone invaded its airspace and accused the United States of trying to provoke hostilities.
Trump met with national security aides Monday, but officials had little to say afterward. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who said his staff briefed Trump, tweeted that the United States "is working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran."
Though he did not name Iran specifically, Trump tweeted late Sunday that "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!"
Because we have done so well with Energy over the last few years (thank you, Mr. President!), we are a net Energy Exporter, & now the Number One Energy Producer in the World. We don’t need Middle Eastern Oil & Gas, & in fact have very few tankers there, but will help our Allies!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2019
Others in the Trump administration pointed the finger directly at Iran.
Over the weekend, Pompeo said, "We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks. 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."
Iran said it is prepared to defend itself with "full-fledged war."
Rebels in Yemen who are at war with Saudi Arabia claimed responsibility for the attack, but U.S. officials questioned whether they are capable of pulling off such an operation without major help from Iran.
Expecting global oil prices to spike, Trump said Sunday he may tap the strategic oil reserve to stabilize the market.
Administration critics blamed Trump for the Middle East predicament. They cited his decision to pull the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement, in which Tehran agreed to give up the means to make nuclear weapons in exchange for relief from economic sanctions on the country.
The United States renewed sanctions, and Iran responded by reviving some nuclear programs.
Trump critics said his offer to help Saudi Arabia is too open-ended.
"Pulling out of the Iran Deal, giving the Saudis a blank check for their war in Yemen, and piling on sanctions and threats has not worked," tweeted Ben Rhodes, a national security aide to President Barack Obama. "We are at the predictable brink of an even wider war which is precisely where Trump’s catastrophic policy has put us."
Trump has also made diplomatic noises toward Iran, suggesting that he might be open to a new Iran nuclear agreement.
Trump entertained the idea of meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations this month, though the Iranian government shot down that idea Monday.
“Neither is such an event on our agenda, nor will it happen," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on state television. "Such a meeting will not take place."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Donald Trump: I don't want war with Iran, though they attacked Saudis