US vows more Iran sanctions as stakes rise

Trump orders screws to be tightened as Mike Pompeo meets more Gulf allies

WASHINGTON-US President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had ordered Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to “substantially increase sanctions” imposed on Iran, amid escalating tensions between Washington and Teheran.

Trump gave no explanation in a Twitter post announcing the order, but it followed repeated US assertions that the Islamic Republic was behind Saturday’s attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and came hours after Riyadh said the strike was a “test of global will”. Iran has denied any involvement in the attacks.

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“I have just instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to substantially increase sanctions on the country of Iran!” Trump wrote.

The Sept 14 raids hit the world’s biggest crude oil processing facility and initially knocked out half of Saudi output. Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading oil exporter.

Responsibility was claimed by Yemen’s Houthi group, which on Wednesday gave more details of the raids, saying they were launched from three sites in Yemen.

In a remark that may further strain an already tense political atmosphere in the Gulf, the Houthis also said they had dozens of sites in the United Arab Emirates, Riyadh’s top Arab ally, listed as possible targets for attacks.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Thursday that the US backs Saudi Arabia’s “right to defend itself”. He had earlier described the assault-targeting the heart of the country’s oil industry-as an “act of war”.

Pompeo’s comments on Twitter came as he was in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s defense minister. The Saudis on Wednesday displayed missile and drone wreckage and cited other evidence they alleged shows the raid was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran”.

In response, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif warned on Thursday that any US or Saudi military strike on his country will result in “all-out war”.

It would cause “a lot of casualties,” he stressed.

“I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” Zarif said. “But we won’t blink to defend our territory.”

He added that any sanctions placed by the US on Iran-imposed after Washington withdrew from an international agreement aimed at curbing Teheran’s nuclear program-would need to be lifted before any further negotiations could be considered.

Pompeo was to next visit the United Arab Emirates to meet with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE joined the kingdom in its war in Yemen against the Houthis.

The UAE said on Thursday it had joined a US-led coalition to protect waterways across the Middle East.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that UN experts have left for Saudi Arabia to probe the blasts, as he warned of “devastating” consequences if the crisis escalates.

The UN experts “have already left for Saudi Arabia and obviously they will be doing their job according to the mandate that the Security Council has given them”, Guterres said.

Agencies

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