Trump strains to balance diplomacy, military threat to Iran
AP, Washington :
The Trump administration tried to balance diplomacy with fresh talk of military action Tuesday in response to the fiery missile and drone attack on the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry - a strike marking the most explosive consequence yet of the "maximum pressure" U.S. economic campaign against Iran.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was headed to Jiddah in Saudi Arabia to discuss possible responses to what U.S. officials believe was an attack coming from Iranian soil. President Donald Trump said he'd "prefer not" to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at next week's U.N. session but "I never rule anything out."
Iran continued to deny involvement in last weekend's attack on Saudi Arabia's Abqaiq oil processing plant and its Khurais oil field, a strike that interrupted the equivalent of about 5% of the world's daily supply. Saudi Arabia's energy minister said Tuesday that more than half of the country's daily crude oil production that was knocked out by the attack had been recovered and production capacity at the targeted plants would be fully restored by the end of the month.
The Trump administration was moving cautiously as it navigated competing impulses - seeking to keep up a pressure campaign aimed at forcing Tehran to negotiate on broader issues with the U.S. while deterring any further Iranian attacks and avoiding another Middle East war. It all was occurring as the administration deals with a host of other foreign policy issues and has no national security adviser, following the recent ouster of John Bolton. Echoing Trump's warning from
earlier in the week, Vice President Mike Pence said American forces were "locked and loaded" for war if needed. But he also noted that Trump said he doesn't want war with Iran or anyone else. "As the president said yesterday, it's 'certainly looking like' Iran was behind these attacks," Pence said. "And our intelligence community at this very hour is working diligently to review the evidence."
The analysts' task was to connect the dots provided by satellite data and other highly classified intelligence with physical evidence from the scene of the attack, which American-provided Saudi defenses had failed to stop.
Fourteen months before voters will decide on Trump's reelection, he is increasingly mindful of his 2016 campaign promises, including his pledge to bring American troops home after nearly two decades of continuous war. But he also promised to apply fresh pressure on Iran, a pledge complicated by the latest apparent provocation. The at-times divergent messages from his administration, officials say, mirror internal staff divisions and even the president's own hesitations. "You know, I'm not looking to get into new conflict," Trump said Monday, "but sometimes you have to." Aides say he's taking a prudent pause.
"The president's being cautious, and if he were banging the gong today about Iran being the culprit, inevitably, without presenting the case to the American people, everyone would be saying he's a warmonger," said White House spokesman Hogan Gidley. The crisis comes amid upheaval in Trump's national security team. His national security adviser, Bolton, departed earlier this month after policy clashes, including disagreements over how best to pressure Iran into returning to the negotiating table on its nuclear and missile programs.