Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

US warns that Trump’s patience is 'not infinite' on Iran as investigators collect evidence

Senior Gulf official hints at 'room for diplomacy' but not a return to JCPOA

Saudi Arabia said the missiles and drones used in an attack on Aramco facilities on September 14, 2019 were made in Iran. AP Photo
Saudi Arabia said the missiles and drones used in an attack on Aramco facilities on September 14, 2019 were made in Iran. AP Photo

As Iranian President Hassan Rouhani makes his way to New York to attend the UN General Assembly, the United States and its European and Gulf partners are co-ordinating efforts to make the case for Tehran’s responsibility for the attacks on two Saudi oil facilities on September 14.

“The evidence could be released this week,” a senior US official told The National in New York. “We are doing a transparent, multinational, thorough investigation where the US, Saudi Arabia, UK, France and the UN have investigating teams on the ground to look at the evidence.”

After the evidence is presented to the United Nations, the US will work towards building a diplomatic coalition, holding Iran accountable and the possibility of pursuing “multilateral sanctions on Iran for what they did and to re-establish deterrence”, the official sad. It is co-ordinating closely with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Arab allies on the next steps.

For now, the US response is focused on the UN channel, creating a maritime security umbrella in the Gulf, sending more troops to Saudi Arabia, and boosting Saudi defences to prevent such an attack in the future. “We are sending additional assets to our allies, based on their needs and what they requested,” the official said.

He warned that if these options failed to deter Iran from further provocations, the US government was ready to consider other measures. “The president [Donald Trump] is the decider on a broad range of options. If the diplomatic front doesn’t work or nations refuse to accept evidence that is gathered by several states with consensus about what they see, including the UN, then the president would have to look at other options.”

The official said Mr Trump was demonstrating "strategic patience" but warned “the president’s patience is not infinite”. “If this doesn’t get sorted out diplomatically, the strategic patience will end and there will be a kinetic response in answer to the escalation.”

He said such a scenario was “not optimal” but “you cannot have a state raining missiles down on whatever state it chooses in the Gulf”.

Asked if the attacks could be considered an outcome of the "maximum pressure" campaign that the Trump administration has waged against Iran, the official defended the strategy. He said Tehran's negative growth was in the double digits and that there was pressure on its proxies. “The campaign is working, the Iranians are trying to change the rules of the game so they started enriching again, attacking ships in the Gulf, they upped their campaign with their proxies in the region.”

He accused Iran of manufacturing precision guided munitions in Lebanon and storing ballistic missiles in Iraq. “After every one of these attacks, the US responds with strategic patience and in a measured and effective way,” he said.

“We don’t a war so we level more sanctions to increase pressure, but this is not the response Iran wants.”

The GCC foreign ministers with the exception of Qatar met in New York on Sunday night and will meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday to discuss Iran.

A senior Gulf official said in a closed briefing in New York attended by The National that “there is room for diplomacy” with Iran.

The official cautioned, however, that “the conversation should no longer be about the JCPOA" – the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – "but Iran’s missile programme and its regional misbehaviour, which are as important if not more important – they have the potential to hold the region to ransom".

“It’s not realistic to just go back to the JCPOA, there has to be a new diplomatic outreach or initiative,” he said, arguing that “the way the Iranians are trying to frame [the debate between] war or return to the JCPOA is a false assumption".

Asked about sanctions relief for Iran in return for negotiations, the Gulf official rejected the idea. “What we need right now is not sanctions relief. It has to be tied to a political process. If you do sanctions relief you’re incentivising their nefarious activities. You’re saying their blackmail is working."

“Sanctions relief can only be the outcome of – not a precondition to – a political process. We cannot reward Iran by incentivising its hostile behaviour.”

Arab leaders in New York for the General Assembly are meeting to discuss security developments in the region. Jordan's King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi and Iraqi President Barham Salih met on Sunday and expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia and condemnation of the attacks on its soil, while calling for diplomatic efforts.

The senior Gulf official called for a collective diplomatic effort. “There is much more room and time for diplomacy and discussions. We must work to engage the US, the Europeans, and the international community in collective diplomacy.”

Updated: September 23, 2019 08:24 PM

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