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Pompeo calls Saudi oil field attack an 'act of war'

Official sources told NBC News Tuesday that the Trump administration was weighing options for a retaliatory action against Iran.
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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday accused Iran of perpetrating an "act of war" after weekend strikes on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, saying the attack had the "fingerprints of the Ayatollah."

"This was an Iranian attack," Pompeo told reporters after a flight to the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah. "We were blessed there were no Americans killed in this attack, but anytime you have an act of war of this nature, there's always a risk that could happen."

And even if "fraudulent" claims of responsibility by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthi rebels were true, Pompeo told reporters, "it doesn't change the fingerprints of the Ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply."

U.S. officials familiar with the latest intelligence have told NBC News the attack originated geographically from Iran, with a series of low-altitude cruise missiles fired from at least one location in the western region of the country.

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Pompeo, whose comments Wednesday marked an escalation of U.S. rhetoric on Iran, planned to meet with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to discuss the attack and "coordinate efforts to counter Iranian aggression in the region," according to the U.S. Mission to the United Arab Emirates.

He then travels to Abu Dhabi in the U.A.E.

President Donald Trump, for his part, told reporters in Los Angeles that he had "many options" on Iran, including the "ultimate option," an apparent reference to military conflict with Tehran.

The Trump administration is weighing a range of options for a retaliatory strike against Iran, including a cyberattack or physical strike on Iranian oil facilities or Revolutionary Guard assets, U.S. officials and others briefed on the deliberations have told NBC News.

Pompeo's visit comes as:

• Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Saudi Arabia should see the attack on its oil facilities this weekend as a warning to end the war in Yemen, while insisting the attack came from Yemeni forces.

Saudi Arabia's Defense Ministry said in a press conference Wednesday that they have evidence the attack was not launched by Yemen and was "definitely supported by Iran." NBC News has not verified that claim.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the attack, who "called for a thorough and objective investigation of the incident,'' the Kremlin said.

• President Trump tweeted that he had instructed Steven Mnuchin, secretary to the Treasury, to "substantially increase Sanctions on the country of Iran!"

Rouhani made Wednesday's comments at a cabinet meeting in Tehran and also blamed other members a Saudi-led coalition, which has been battling the Houthi rebels since March 2015, for the violence in the region.

Image: The Saudi military displays an apparent Iranian cruise missile and drones used in an attack on an oil facility at a press conference in Riyadh on Sept. 18, 2019.
Saudi officials display an apparent Iranian cruise missile and drones that they say was used in an attack on an oil facility.Amr Nabil / AP

In the video released by state TV, Rouhani did not address allegations that Iran was behind the attack on one of the world's largest oil processing facilities and a major oil field operated by Saudi Aramco last weekend.

"The Yemeni people showed a reaction, they hit a location, they did not hit hospitals, so why are you upset? They did not hit schools, they did not hit the Sanaa bazaar, they attacked an industrial site to warn you," Rouhani said.

Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, but Pompeo swiftly blamed Tehran directly. Three U.S. officials previously told NBC News there was extremely compelling evidence showing the origination point of the strikes, and one official with direct knowledge described that evidence as imagery.

In a national security meeting on Monday, U.S. military leaders provided Trump with a menu of possible actions against Iran. But the president, seeking a narrowly focused response that wouldn't draw the U.S. into broader military conflict with Iran, asked for more options, people briefed on the meeting said.

There were no indications that any U.S. military action was imminent, and officials said that no decision has been made.

Image: Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman gives a press conference in the Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah
Saudi Arabia's Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman gives a press conference in Jeddah on Tuesday. AFP - Getty Images

Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman announced Tuesday that oil production capacity at the affected plants would be fully restored by the end of the month, alleviating fears of a major oil market disruption after brent crude futures soared Monday.

Saudi Aramco President & CEO Amin Nasser said the synchronized attacks were timed to create "maximum damage" to Saudi facilities and operations. It was estimated the attack knocked out 5.7 million barrels of daily oil production, or more than five percent of the global daily crude production.

Meanwhile, any hopes of a diplomatic solution to resolve tensions in the region dissipated Tuesday when Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said no talks would take place between Iran and the U.S. “at any level," in comments that appeared to end all speculation about a potential U.S.-Iran meeting at the United Nations later this month.

Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday that members of Rouhani’s delegation to the U.N. have not been granted U.S. visas yet, and the president may not attend the U.N. assembly at all if the matter is not resolved.

Khamenei tweeted Tuesday that if the U.S. "repents" and returns to the nuclear deal from which it withdrew last year "then it can join and talk with Iran among other members of the deal." The 2015 accord was originally agreed to by Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

"Otherwise no negotiation will take place between Islamic Republic and U.S. officials at any level, whether in New York or anywhere else," he said.

Relations between Washington and Tehran have deteriorated after Trump pulled out of the nuclear agreement with Iran last year and reimposed sanctions on its oil exports.

Image: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a meeting in Tehran
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during a meeting in Tehran on Tuesday. AFP - Getty Images

Trump tweeted Sunday that the U.S. was “locked and loaded” and ready to respond once it determines who was behind the attack and had conferred with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi ambassador to the U.K., Prince Khalid Bin Bandar Al-Saud, told the BBC Wednesday the attack was “almost certainly Iranian-backed.”

However, the ambassador said they were trying “not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region."

State Department issued a travel advisory for Saudi Arabia Tuesday urging "increased caution" for those travelling to the country "due to terrorism and the threat of missile and drone attacks on civilian targets."

It said terrorists may attack "with little or no warning," targeting tourist locations, transportation hubs, shopping malls and local government facilities.

Ali Arouzi reported from Doha, Yuliya Talmazan and Saphora Smith from London, and Daniel Arkin from New York.