Saudi oil attacks: Pence repeats Trump's 'locked and loaded' line

US vice president says Pompeo heading to Saudi Arabia, US 'evaluating evidence' following attacks on Saudi oil plants.

    Saudi oil attacks: Pence repeats Trump's 'locked and loaded' line
    Pence says if Iran conducted Saturday's attacks to pressure President Donald Trump to back off his sanctions regime against Tehran, they will fail [File: Peter Summers/Reuters]

    US Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday the United States was evaluating evidence on the attacks on Saudi oil facilities and stands ready to defend its interests and allies in the Middle East.

    "We're evaluating all the evidence. We're consulting with our allies. And the president will determine the best course of action in the days ahead," Pence said in a speech at the Heritage Foundation conservative think-tank in Washington, DC.

    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was travelling to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, Pence said, adding that if Iran conducted Saturday's attacks to pressure President Donald Trump to back off his sanctions regime against Tehran, they will fail. 

    "The United States of America will take whatever action is necessary to defend our country, our troops, and our allies in the Gulf. You can count on it," Pence said.

    He later tweeted, "I promise you: We're ready. The US is prepared. We're locked and loaded and we're ready to defend our interests & our allies in the region. Make no mistake about it." 

    The attacks took place early on Saturday on two major oil facilities in Saudi Arabia.

    Pence's comments were a repeat of Trump's earlier warning that the US was "locked and loaded" to respond to the attacks. Trump, however, emphasised on Monday that he does not want a war. 

    Iran has denied being behind the attacks, which knocked out half of Saudi Arabia's oil production. 

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    Yemen's Houthi rebels, who have been locked in a war with a Saudi-UAE-led coalition since 2015, claimed responsibility for the attacks, warning Saudi Arabia that their targets "will keep expanding".

    But the US has tried to build its case that Iran was behind the attacks, which have raised new war worries and sent energy prices soaring. 

    On Monday, Trump said it "certainly" looked like Iran was behind the attack, but the US wants "to find definitively who did this". 

    Pompeo added on Tuesday that "emerging information indicates that responsibility lies with Iran". US officials have not said what that information includes. 

    Bloomberg, citing an unnamed US defence official, reported the Pentagon is preparing its assessment on who was behind the attacks and hopes to present it to public. 

    US media, including CBS, reported on Monday that the US identified the exact locations from where the attacks were launched. The unnamed official cited in the CBS report said the locations were in southern Iran and at the northern end of the Persian Gulf. 

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    Smoke is seen following a fire at Aramco facility in the eastern city of Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia [Reuters] 

    Saudi Arabia's council of ministers said the cabinet had reviewed the damage caused by the attacks on the Aramco installations, and it called on the world's governments to confront them "regardless of their origin". 

    In the statement, the council said the "cowardly" strikes on its oil facilities were an extension of "repeated attacks" on vital installations. "[The attack] has threatened freedom of shipping, and has affected the stability of the global economic growth," the statement said, as reported by state media.

    Saudi King Salman said that Riyadh was capable of dealing with the consequences of attacks on its installations.

    Fears of war

    The new violence has led to fears that further action on any side could rapidly escalate a confrontation that's been raging just below the surface in the wider region in recent months.  

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    Last month, Trump called off a military attack on Iran, at the last minute, after Tehran downed an unmanned US military drone. Iran maintains the drone was in Iranian airspace. The US says it was in international territory. 

    Those tensions have been boiling ever since Trump pulled the US out of Iran's 2015 agreement with world powers that curtailed Iranian nuclear activities and the US re-imposed sanctions that sent Iran's economy into freefall.

    Members of US Congress late on Monday warned against opening up a new front of conflict. 

    "Direct engagement by US military in response to Iran's attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure would be a grave mistake," said Republican Senator Mitt Romney.

    "The US has continued arms sales so Saudi Arabia can defend itself. If SA responds against Iran attacks, the US should be ready to support in a non-kinetic role," he said in a tweet.

    Democrat Ro Khanna said the US "must not launch an offensive war against Iran without congressional approval". 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies