(Bloomberg) -- Iran’s foreign minister warned that any U.S. or Saudi strike on his country in response to the attacks on the kingdom’s critical oil facilities would lead to “all-out war.”
In an interview with CNN, Javad Zarif reiterated that Iran wasn’t involved in the weekend attacks and hoped to avoid a conflict. He said Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have been fighting a Saudi-led coalition for four years and claimed responsibility, had the capability to carry out such a sophisticated operation.
“I cannot have any confidence that they did it because we just heard their statement,” Zarif said. “I know that we didn’t do it. I know that the Houthis made a statement that they did it.”
Saudi and U.S. officials have said that the drones and missiles used were made by Iran, had never before been deployed by Iranian proxy groups, and came from a northerly direction, ruling out Yemen as a launch site. But they stopped short of saying the strikes were launched directly from or by the Islamic Republic, claims that could have propelled a drift toward war. The attacks caused an unprecedented surge in oil prices.
Asked what the consequence of a U.S. or Saudi military strike on Iran would be, Zarif said: “All-out war,” CNN reported.
“I make a very serious statement about defending our country,” he said. “I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation.”
The attacks have damped speculation that President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, could meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York next week. The U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran after exiting the 2015 nuclear deal, kicking off a year of increasingly fraught relations. Nevertheless, Iranian officials signaled they had their visas to travel to New York.
The disputed weekend attacks sent tensions in the Gulf soaring to new heights.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held talks in the United Arab Emirates on Thursday after visiting the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah, as the allies plot their next move.
Talking to reporters, Pompeo said he’d gathered “important information about how it is we should think about proceeding,” adding that Trump still wants a peaceful resolution to the issue.
Pentagon officials were more direct, saying they would defer to Saudi authorities.
“We’re going to allow the Saudis to make the declarations of where the attacks came from,” Defense Department spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman told reporters Thursday. He added that ‘all indications” are that Iran is “in some way responsible.”
Trump, who as a candidate campaigned to end America’s foreign wars, initially declared the U.S. “locked and loaded” for a response, and on Thursday said it was possible there wouldn’t be a “peaceful solution.”
But he’s also announced a tightening of sanctions on Iran, adding to the sense that he’s working to avoid another military conflict in the Middle East.
(Updates with Pentagon comments starting in 11th paragraph)
--With assistance from Tony Capaccio and Glen Carey.
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To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at email@example.com, Bill Faries, Larry Liebert
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