WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- The U.S. secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has said Washington and its allies were seeking a "peaceful resolution” with Iran in the wake of the attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Pompeo’s remarks, made on his return trip to Washington after visits to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, mark a significant cooling of rhetoric after Donald Trump had warned the U.S. was "locked and loaded” and Pompeo had said the attack, which he blamed on Iran, was "an act of war”.
The Pentagon said its goal was "to deter conflict and get back on the diplomatic path” and stopped short of definitively blaming Tehran for the airstrikes which knocked out half Saudi Arabia’s oil production.
"As of this time all indications are that Iran is in some way responsible,” spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said, before adding: "We’re not going to get ahead of the Saudi investigation in their assessment of this.”
Iran has insisted the attack on a Saudi oil field and refinery was launched from Yemen, who has claimed responsibility. Any attack on Iran by the U.S. or Saudi Arabia, Iranian foreign minister Muhammad Javad Zarif warned, would lead to "all-out war”.
"I make a very serious statement about defending our country. I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” Zarif told CNN. "But we won’t blink to defend our territory.”
Asked about Zarif’s comments, Pompeo sought to defuse the standoff.
"I was here in an act of diplomacy. While the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war and to fight to the last American, we’re here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution to this,” the secretary of state said. "That’s my mission set, what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve, and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way. There’s no evidence of that from his statement, but I hope that that’s the case.”
Zarif later responded to Pompeo’s remarks, it is rather Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates which want to "fight Iran to the last American".
"@SecPompeo has it the other way around: It's not #Iran that wishes to fight to the last American; rather, it is his #B_Team hosts who seem to wish to fight Iran to the last American," he tweeted.
Iran, Zarif said, has no desire for war, but "we will, and always have, defended our people and our nation”.
The "B-team” is a term thrown into popular usage by Zarif. It refers to a group of politicians seeking a war with Iran, and the letter "b” in their names. They include Netanyahu, the Saudi crown prince, the Abu Dhabi crown prince, and former U.S. national security adviser John Bolton.
Multiple reports from the White House have portrayed Trump as extremely reluctant to be drawn into another conflict as he campaigns for reelection while seeking to draw down troop levels in Afghanistan and Syria.
Pompeo repeated Trump’s warning that Washington would impose further sanctions on Iran, which is already subject to a U.S. oil and banking embargo.
Pompeo was speaking after consulting Saudi crown prince Muhammad bin Salman and UAE prince Muhammad bin Zayed, the Trump administration’s closest allies in the region, particularly in the wake of Israeli elections that threw Binyamin Netanyahu’s political future in question.
Trump had made clear that Saudi Arabia would have to take the lead role in any response for Saturday’s attacks. But Saudi officials have made it clear they did not want to trigger a full-scale conflict.
The Pentagon said the focus of its own response was to explore "potential ways to look at mitigating future attacks”.
Most Trump critics applauded U.S. retreat, claiming that the U.S. had under no obligation to Riyadh, but blamed Trump’s rhetorical bluster and his policy of "maximum pressure” on Iran for driving the region to the brink of conflict.
"Let me be clear: I’m not advocating war. The point is that (Trump) engaged in a stupid, unnecessary, incredibly dangerous bluff and the Iranians have called him on it,” said Suzanne Maloney, deputy director of the foreign policy program at the Brookings Institution.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said on Friday France is working to "reduce the escalation” that ensued from the recent Yemeni drone attacks against Saudi oil facilities.
"The French role is constant and following this matter in order to reduce the escalation that is happening," Hariri said following talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
Hariri’s remarks about French efforts to ease tensions came after Paris on Thursday appeared to dismiss claims by Yemeni force fighting a Saudi invasion that they were behind the attack.
"The Houthis ... announced that they launched this attack. That lacks credibility,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told CNews television.
France, which has a naval base in neighboring Abu Dhabi, had the Jean Bart warship operating in the area at the time of the attack.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Thursday there is a need for an impartial investigation into the attacks. "You have mentioned the need for a thorough and unbiased investigation," he said.
"It’s important to make sure that the process is impartial because unsubstantiated accusations won’t help matters, they are only heightening already existing tensions in the region," the Russian top diplomat said.