Tensions between the United States and Iran ratcheted up Wednesday as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo decried the weekend attacks on the Saudi oil industry as an “act of war” and President Trump ordered a substantial increase in sanctions against the government in Tehran.
With the Trump administration linking the sanctions step to the airstrikes, Iran warned the United States that it would retaliate for any attack against it, Iranian news agencies reported Wednesday. An attack on Iranian territory would be met with a “rapid and crushing” response, the Fars News Agency said.
Five days after the strikes on Saudi oil facilities, which were claimed by a Yemeni rebel group, U.S. and Saudi officials all but explicitly accused Iran of launching the attacks from its territory. They presented physical evidence and other details that they said bolstered their assertions of direct Iranian culpability.
The heightened tensions come after several months of escalating threats in the Persian Gulf, as Iran has sought to intensify pressure on the United States and its allies in response, officials in Tehran say, to the increasingly severe American sanctions crippling the Iran economy, according to the Washington Post report.
The initial claim of responsibility for the weekend attacks by the Iranian-allied rebels, known as the Houthis, “doesn’t change the fingerprints of the ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply,” Pompeo told reporters, in an apparent reference to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, while traveling to Saudi Arabia.
His comments set the tone for a day of developments that raised temperatures across the Persian Gulf.
The attacks on the installations in eastern Saudi Arabia temporarily cut the kingdom’s oil production in half and caused prices to jump worldwide.
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The Post reported that the US and Saudi governments have yet to provide solid evidence of where the attacks originated. In the absence of such proof, Iran has forcefully pushed back against the accusations and warned of consequences if it is attacked.
The day’s first salvo came from President Trump, who wrote in a tweet that he had “just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!”
He later told reporters travelling with him in California that “very significant” sanctions would be announced, “over the next 48 hours.”
Trump warned of “a very powerful attack” against Iran Wednesday afternoon as he toured the U.S.-Mexico border in Otay Mesa, Calif., near San Diego. He said his plans are “very fluid” and that “a lot of things can happen — rough things and not so rough things.”
Trump told reporters he was being judicious in evaluating whether to respond with military force. “We are doing it the right way,” he said. “We’re doing it the smart way… We will see what we will see.”
But, the president added, “One call and we can go in.”