Vice President Mike Pence said on Sept. 17 that the United States was reviewing evidence that suggests Iran was behind the attacks on Saudi oil facilities and stands ready to defend its interests and allies in the Middle East.
“We’re evaluating all the evidence. We’re consulting with our allies. And the president will determine the best course of action in the days ahead,” Pence said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.
President Donald Trump had warned that the United States was “locked and loaded” to respond to the attacks, but has emphasized he does not want a war.
“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked,” Trump wrote on Twitter on the evening of Sept. 15. “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!”
His tweet follows a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over the weekend that Iran was to blame for the attack on Saudi oil infrastructure, coming amid elevated tensions between Iran and the United States.
Pompeo was traveling to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to discuss the response to the attacks, Pence said.
“The United States of America will take whatever action is necessary to defend our country, our troops, and our allies in the Gulf. You can count on it,” Pence said Tuesday.
If Iran conducted Saturday’s attacks to pressure Trump to lighten sanctions aimed at pressuring Tehran over its nuclear program, that strategy will fail, Pence said.
Iran has denied being behind Saturday’s attacks, which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. The Houthi group, an ally of Tehran which is fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, says it conducted the strikes with drones which were powered by both normal and jet engines.
Trump on Sept. 16 questioned Iran’s denial of involvement in the attacks. He compared it to an earlier claim Iran made after shooting down an American drone in June.
“Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their ‘airspace’ when, in fact, it was nowhere close,” Trump said in a tweet. “They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”
Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their “airspace” when, in fact, it was nowhere close. They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 16, 2019
Iran seems to have escalated aggressive actions in the region since the United States withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on much of the Iranian economy.
After the U.S. drone was shot down on June 20, Trump said he called off a retaliatory strike at the last moment to prevent loss of life. Instead, he ordered cyber-attacks on Iranian targets, multiple media reported.
A week earlier, on June 13, two oil tankers were attacked near the strait in the Gulf of Oman. The United States has blamed Iran, which denied responsibility. The U.S. military then released video and images that appear to show Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps removing a mine from the hull of one of the tankers, suggesting that Iran sought to remove evidence of its involvement.
Iran also attempted to shoot down a U.S. drone arriving at the scene of the attacks, according to a Fox News report that cited a senior U.S. official.
On July 4, authorities in Gibraltar, with the United Kingdom’s assistance, seized an Iranian oil tanker that they said was smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Iran denied the allegation and on July 19 seized a Sweden-owned tanker flying a British flag.
On July 18, a U.S. amphibious assault ship shot down an Iranian drone in what Trump described as a “defensive action.”
On July 22, Iran claimed to have captured 17 CIA spies, which Trump said is false.
And on Aug. 20, a U.S. drone was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Yemen, multiple media reported.
Reuters, The Associated Press, and Epoch Times reporters Petr Svab and Jack Philips contributed to this report.