Saudi Arabia said it would produce evidence linking regional rival Tehran to an attack on its oil industry Washington believes originated from Iran in an escalation of Middle East friction.
Tehran again denied involvement in the September 14 attacks on oil plants, including the world’s biggest crude processing facility which initially knocked out half of Saudi production.
“They want to impose maximum pressure on Iran through slander,” Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said according to state media. “We don’t want conflict in the region. Who started the conflict?” he said, blaming Washington and its Gulf allies for war in Yemen.
Yemen’s Houthi movement, an ally of Iran battling a Western-backed, Saudi-led coalition for more than four years, claimed responsibility and said drones assaulted state oil company Aramco’s sites.
Yhe Saudi Defence Ministry will hold a news conference on Wednesday to present “material evidence and Iranian weapons proving the Iranian regime’s involvement in the terrorist attack”.
Concrete evidence showing Iranian responsibility, if made public, could pressure Riyadh and Washington into a response with both nations stressing the need for caution.
US President Donald Trump said he does not want war, there is “no rush” to retaliate and co-ordination is happening with Gulf and European states.
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said, in a call with South Korea’s leader, the attack was a “real test of the global will” to confront subversion of international stability, state media reported.
His envoy to London, Prince Khalid bin Bander, told the BBC the attack was “almost certainly” Iranian-backed but: “We’re trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and United Nations officials monitoring sanctions on Iran and Yemen were heading to Saudi Arabia for talks and investigations.
A US official told Reuters the strikes originated in south-western Iran. Three officials said they involved cruise missiles and drones, indicating a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.
The officials did not provide evidence or explain what US intelligence they used for evaluating the attack that cut five percent of global production. Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, said the 5.7 million barrels per day of output lost would be fully restored by moth-end.
Oil prices fell after the Saudi reassurances, having surged more than 20% at one point on Monday – the biggest intra-day jump since the 1990-91 Gulf War.
A senior US official called for a UN Security Council response to the attacks, although success is unlikely because diplomats say Russia and China – with veto powers – are likely to shield Iran.
One of three US officials voiced confidence the Saudi probe would yield “compelling forensic evidence” determining the origins of the attack that exposed gaps in Saudi air defences despite billions spent on Western military hardware.
“The attack is like September 11 for Saudi Arabia, it is a game changer,” said a Saudi security analyst.
Already frayed US-Iran ties deteriorated further when Trump quit a nuclear pact between Tehran and the West last year, re-imposing sanctions and hurting the Iranian economy.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out talks with Washington unless it returns to the pact.
Trump is not looking to meet Rouhani during a UN event this month. Rouhani and his foreign minister may not attend the General Assembly at all if US visas are not issued in coming hours, state media reported.
Washington and its Gulf allies want Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon.