Wednesday 23 October 2019

Iran rules out talks with US as tension rises after oil strike

Standing firm: Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Office of the Iranian supreme leader via AP
Standing firm: Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks at a meeting in Tehran, Iran. Photo: Office of the Iranian supreme leader via AP

Nasser Karimi

Iran's supreme leader said yesterday "there will be no talks with the US at any level" - remarks apparently meant to end all speculation about a possible US-Iran meeting between the two countries' presidents at the UN later this month.

Iranian state TV quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who's been personally sanctioned by the Trump administration, as saying this is the position of the entire leadership of the country and that "all officials in the Islamic Republic unanimously believe" this.

"There will be no talks with the US at any level," he said.

His comments come as Iran faces allegations it is behind a devastating weekend attack on a Saudi oil field and the world's largest crude oil processing plant that knocked out 5.7 million barrels of crude oil production per day, or about 5pc of the world's daily production. It also took out two billion cubic feet of daily gas production. Oil prices have soared worldwide amid the damage in Saudi Arabia.

Aramco, the Saudi oil company targeted, said no workers were injured in the attack, early on Saturday on the kingdom's facilities in the east, that was claimed as multiple drone strikes by Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, however, says the attack did not come from Yemen and said initial investigations show Iranian weapons were used. The kingdom, though, has not yet said where the attack was launched from or what kind of weapons were involved.

The US has made similar allegations, going so far as to say the attack may have been launched from Iran itself or nearby Iraq, where Iran has powerful proxy militias on the ground.

Iran has denied the charges.

Saudi Arabia yesterday called on the international community "to shoulder its responsibility in condemning the perpetrators" and "clearly confronting" those behind the attack. The government's statements were carried in state-run media following a weekly cabinet meeting that was overseen by King Salman, who was quoted saying Saudi Arabia is capable of defending against such "cowardly attacks".

Current tensions stem from President Donald Trump's decision to pull the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. He also re-imposed and escalated sanctions on Iran that sent the country's economy into freefall, including targeting its oil exports.

Mr Khamenei said the US wants to prove its "maximum pressure policy" against Iran is successful. "In return, we have to prove that the policy is not worth a penny for the Iranian nation," he said.

"That's why all Iranian officials, from the president and the foreign minister to all others have announced that we do not negotiate (with the US) either bilaterally or multilaterally," he said.

There had been reports about a possible meeting between Mr Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, during the upcoming UN General Assembly next week in New York.

Mr Trump declared on Monday it "looks" like Iran was behind the explosive attack on the Saudi oil facilities. But he stressed that military retaliation was not yet on the table in response to the strike against a key US mid-east ally.

Mr Trump, alternating between aggressive and non-violent reactions, said the US could respond "with an attack many, many times larger" but also "I'm not looking at options right now".

Earlier, he had said the US was "locked and loaded". He also said the impact of oil production shortages would not be significant on the US.

Irish Independent

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