Trump says he would ‘certainly like to avoid’ war with Iran

US President Donald Trump said on Monday that it looked like Iran was responsible for attacks over the weekend on Saudi Arabian oil plants, but he wants to avoid war. 

“It is certainly looking that way at this moment,” Trump told reporters when asked if he believes Iran carried out the attack.

Without providing evidence, the president said “we pretty much already know” and “certainly it would look to most like it was Iran” but that Washington still wanted more proof.

“We want to find definitively who did this,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, where he was meeting with Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa.

“You’re going to find out in great detail in the near future,” he said. “We have the exact location of just about everything.

“With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid” war, he said. “I don’t want war with anybody but we’re prepared more than anybody.”

Washington has blamed Tehran for the attacks, which cut five percent of world crude oil production. Iran has rejected the allegations.

The attacks took place early on Saturday on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who have been locked in a war with a Saudi-UAE-led coalition since 2015, claimed responsibility for the attacks, warning Saudi Arabia that their targets “will keep expanding”.

A Saudi military spokesman on Monday said initial investigations show Iranian weapons were used in the weekend attacks.

Iran has denied it was behind the attack, saying such allegations were meant to justify actions against it.

This image provided on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019, by the U.S. government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco's Abaqaiq oil processing facility

This image provided by the US government and DigitalGlobe and annotated by the source, shows damage to the infrastructure at Saudi Aramco’s Abaqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq, Saudi Arabia Handout/US government/Digital Globe/AP Photo

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said earlier on Monday the attacks were “unprecedented” and the US, along with its allies, was working to defend the “international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran.”

Esper in a phone call to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the US was studying all available options in how it will respond to the attacks.

Esper affirmed the US’s full support for Saudi Arabia following the attacks, state news agency SPA reported.

Trump on Sunday had said that the US is “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”.

Congress warns against immediate military action

Meanwhile, members of the US Congress blasted Iran, but expressed wariness about US military action, especially before they have a clearer picture of who was behind Saturday’s attacks.

US politicians, especially Trump’s fellow Republicans, were quick to blame Tehran.

“Iran continues to respond to diplomacy with violence and demonstrate the regime’s refusal to act as a responsible member of the international community,” Senator Jim Risch, the Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called for an international response.

“I hope our international partners will join us in imposing consequences on Iran for this reckless, destabilising attack,” McConnell, a Republican, said as he opened the US Senate.

Many members of Congress stressed that the US Congress, not the president has the right to declare war and warned against any quick military action.

Congress, with backing from both Republicans and Democrats, has passed – but Trump has vetoed – four bills seeking to push back against Trump’s strong support for the Saudi government, despite its human rights record and steep civilian casualties in the war in Yemen. 

Senate aides said the administration was expected to begin providing classified briefings on Saturday’s attack for congressional staff and members as soon as Monday.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Democrat who is on the Foreign Relations Committee, noted that the US has long been wary of getting involved in conflicts between nations in the Middle East. He noted that Washington does not have a defence treaty with Riyadh.

“Why should the United States get dragged into a conflict that has more to do with Saudi and Iranian power in the Middle East than American power?” Murphy, a critic of Saudi Arabia on rights issues including its role in the Yemen war, told Reuters.

Risch warned of US retaliation in case of an attack on US troops.

“Iran should not underestimate the United States’ resolve,” he said. “Any attack against US forces deployed abroad must be met with an overwhelming response – no targets are off the table.”

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