Pompeo wants peaceful resolution after ‘Iranian’ Aramco attacks, Zarif warns of ‘all out war’

Mike Pompeo arrived in Abu Dhabi on Thursday where he met with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2019

Pompeo wants peaceful resolution after ‘Iranian’ Aramco attacks, Zarif warns of ‘all out war’

  • Zarif warns that any attack will lead to ‘all-out war’
  • Mike Pompeo is currently in the UAE where continues to discuss the crisis

DUBAI: The United States wants a peaceful solution after attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities blamed on Iran, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday, after Iran raised the prospect of “all-out war”.

Pompeo’s comments came after talks in Abu Dhabi with Gulf allies about responding to the attacks which he has denounced as an “act of war” by Iran.

He said there was an “enormous consensus in the region” that Iran carried out Saturday’s attacks, despite its denials.

“I didn’t hear anyone in the region who doubted that for a single moment,” he said. “We’d like a peaceful resolution. I think we’ve demonstrated that,” he said.

“We’re here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace.”

“I hope the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way.”

Pompeo arrived in the UAE capital as Iran’s foreign minister warned that any attack on his country over Saturday’s drone-and-missile strike on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry would result in “all-out war,” further pushing up tensions across the Persian Gulf.

The hardening of the US position raises the risk of a dangerous escalation after weekend strikes on the heart of the Saudi oil industry knocked out half its production.

Pompeo flew to Abu Dhabi from Jeddah, where he met late Wednesday with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has said the assault poses a “real test” of global will.

The two sides “agreed that the Iranian regime must be held accountable for its continued aggressive, reckless, and threatening behavior,” State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in statement after their talks.

The “unacceptable and unprecedented attack... not only threatened Saudi Arabian national security, but also endangered the lives of all the American citizens living and working in Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Pompeo denounced the unprecedented strikes as an Iranian “act of war”, as Riyadh Wednesday unveiled new evidence it said showed the assault was “unquestionably” sponsored by Tehran.

The comments by Mohammad Javad Zarif represent the starkest warning offered yet by Iran in a long summer of mysterious attacks and incidents following the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, over a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord.

Zarif’s comments also appeared to be in response to Pompeo, who a day earlier while traveling to Saudi Arabia referred to the attack as an “act of war.”

Asked by CNN what would be the consequence of a US or Saudi strike, Zarif said: “All-out war.”

“We won’t blink to defend our territory,” he said.

Saudi officials displayed what they said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired on Saturday at two facilities in the country’s east, engulfing them in flames.

“The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” Saudi-led Arab coalition spokesman Turki Al-Maliki said, but would not be drawn on whether Saudi officials believed Iran would ultimately be found to be the culprit.

(with AFP and Reuters)


Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

Updated 15 October 2019

Syrian and Russian troops sweep into Manbij as US withdraws

  • Standoff looms in northern Syrian town of Manbij as Turkish offensive continues
  • Trump's fresh sanctions fail to halt Turkish advance

MANBIJ, Syria: Turkey ignored US sanctions and pressed on with its assault on northern Syria on Tuesday, while the Russia-backed Syrian army roared into one of the most hotly contested cities abandoned by US forces in Donald Trump’s retreat.
Reuters journalists accompanied Syrian government forces who entered the center of the city of Manbij, a flashpoint where US troops had previously conducted joint patrols with Turkey.
Russian and Syrian flags were flying from a building on the city outskirts, and from a convoy of military vehicles.
US forces announced they had pulled out of the city.
A week after reversing US policy and moving troops out of the way to allow Turkey to attack Washington’s Syrian allies, Trump announced a package of sanctions to punish Ankara.
But the measures — mainly a hike in steel tariffs and a pause in trade talks — were less robust than financial markets had expected, and Trump’s critics derided them as too feeble to have an impact.
The Turkish lira, which had fallen on the expectation of tougher US measures, recovered after the sanctions were announced, as did its bond and stock markets, with traders noting that Trump had spared Turkish banks.
Trump’s unexpected decision to withhold protection from Syria’s Kurds after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan a week ago swiftly upended five years of US policy in the Middle East.
The withdrawal gives a free hand to Washington’s adversaries in the world’s deadliest ongoing war, namely Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies.
The United States announced on Sunday it was withdrawing its entire force of 1,000 troops from northern Syria. Its former Kurdish allies immediately forged a new alliance with Assad’s Russia-backed government, inviting the army into towns across the breadth of their territory.
Russian-backed Syrian forces moved swiftly to fill the void left by departing Americans from Manbij west of the Euphrates river, which Turkey has vowed to capture.
“We are out of Manbij,” said Col. Myles B Caggins, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria. Troops “are executing a deliberate withdrawal from northeast Syria.”
A group of journalists accompanied by Syrian army personnel journeyed into Manbij city where upon their arrival a group of people gathered, waving the Syrian flag and pictures of Assad.
However the reporters left when gunfire was heard and a group of some 10 young men in Kurdish YPG uniforms began breaking cameras and yelling.
Syrian state media said SDF fighters had opened fire on a march organized by the people of Manbij to welcome the army.
Trump’s pullout ends joint US-Turkish patrols of the Manbij area under a deal aimed to persuade Turkey not to invade.
Syrian state television broadcast footage of what it said was government troops entering Manbij on Tuesday, under their new deal with the Kurds. A resident inside the city told Reuters the Syrian troops were on its outskirts. Turkey-backed Syrian fighters said they would continue their advance toward Manbij.
A Reuters cameraman on the Turkish frontier reported heavy bombardment on Tuesday morning of the Syrian border town of Ras Al-Ain, where a spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces reported a fierce battle was taking place.
Trump has defended his reversal of US policy as part of a plan to withdraw the United States from “endless” wars in the Middle East.
But his critics, including senior figures in his own Republican Party, cast it as a betrayal of the Kurds, loyal allies who lost thousands of fighters as the principal ground forces in Washington’s battle against Daesh.
The Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said Trump’s sanctions were too little, too late.
“His announcement of a package of sanctions against Turkey falls very short of reversing that humanitarian disaster.”
Turkey says it aims to defeat the Kurdish YPG militia, which it sees as terrorists for their links to separatists in Turkey, and to create a “safe zone” where millions of Syrian refugees can be resettled.
The United Nations says 160,000 people have fled their homes as Turkish forces advance. The Kurdish administration puts the number of displaced at 270,000.
The UN Human Rights office said on Tuesday Turkey could be held responsible for war crimes by fighters under its direction, potentially including the assassination of Hevrin Khalaf, a leading Kurdish politician killed on the side of a highway on Saturday by gunmen who posted the incident on the Internet.
Turkish-backed fighters have denied blame for her murder.
Erdogan, who has pledged to continue military operations come what may, said Turkey was giving the world a chance to bring peace to the region.
“The international community missed its opportunity to prevent the Syrian crisis from pulling an entire region into a maelstrom of instability,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “The European Union — and the world — should support what Turkey is trying to do.”
The Syrian army deployments into Kurdish-held territory evacuated by Washington are a victory for President Bashar Assad and his most powerful ally, Russia, giving them a foothold in the biggest remaining swath of the country that had been beyond their grasp.
Trump allies insisted Washington had not given its blessing to the Turkish offensive, and demanded a cease-fire.
“The United States of America simply is not going to tolerate Turkey’s invasion in Syria any further,” Vice President Mike Pence said. “We are calling on Turkey to stand down, end the violence and come to the negotiating table.”
Trump’s sanctions include reimposing steel tariffs and halting talks on a trade deal. But bilateral trade between Turkey and the United States is small — around a tenth the size of Turkey’s trade with Europe. Washington’s most effective form of economic leverage would be to hinder Turkey’s access to US financial markets, a step Trump has so far avoided.
“The sanctions are not related to banking, so the markets will have a positive perception,” said Cem Tozge, asset management director at Ata Invest.
In a potentially more damaging blow, German carmaker Volkswagen said it was postponing a final decision on whether to build a 1 billion euro ($1.1 billion) plant in Turkey, citing concern over “current developments” after international condemnation of the incursion.
European countries have criticized the offensive but have limited their response so far to announcing suspensions of arms sales, although weapons account for only a small fraction of EU-Turkish trade.
Trump said US troops would remain at a small garrison at Tanf in southern Syria “to continue to disrupt remnants” of Daesh. The base on the southern border is hundreds of miles away from the Kurdish area in the north that had previously been the main US theater.