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U.S., Iran say not seeking war as tensions spike.

Summary: The United States and Iran played down fears of a war between the countries, as weeks-old tension in the region further spiked Tuesday

RIYADH/DUBAI: The United States and Iran played down fears of a war between the countries, as weeks-old tension in the region further spiked Tuesday after armed drones targeted two oil pumping stations in Saudi Arabia. The attacks took place against a backdrop of U.S.-Iranian tension following Washington's decision this month to try to cut Iran's oil exports to zero and to beef up its military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats. It also comes two days after four oil tankers, including two Saudi ships, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

However, U.S. President Donald Trump denied a New York Times report that U.S. officials were discussing a military plan to send up to 120,000 troops to the Middle East to counter any attack or nuclear weapons acceleration by Iran.

"It's fake news, OK? Now, would I do that? Absolutely. But we have not planned for that. Hopefully we're not going to have to plan for that. And if we did that, we'd send a hell of a lot more troops than that," Trump told reporters.

Speaking during a joint news conference following talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said his country was " fundamentally" not seeking war with Iran. But he added: "We have also made clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will most certainly respond in an appropriate fashion." Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said there would not be war with the U.S. despite mounting tensions over Iranian nuclear capabilities, its missile program and its support for proxies in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. "There won't be any war. The Iranian nation has chosen the path of resistance," he said in comments carried by Iran's state TV.

He repeated that Tehran would not negotiate with Washington over Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Trump withdrew the United States from the pact a year ago and has increased economic sanctions on the Iranian government.

The Trump administration's sanctions are designed to choke off Iran's oil exports, its main source of revenues, in an effort to force Iran to accept more stringent limits on its nuclear and missile programs.

U.S. national security agencies believe proxies sympathetic to or working for Iran may have sabotaged the tankers off the UAE coast rather than Iranian forces themselves, a U.S. official familiar with the latest U.S. assessments said Tuesday.

The official said possible perpetrators might include Houthi rebels in Yemen and Iran-backed Shiite militias based in Iraq, but Washington had no hard evidence. A U.S. official familiar with U.S. intelligence had said Monday that Iran was a leading candidate for the tanker sabotage but the United States did not have conclusive proof.

Iran rejects the allegation of Iranian involvement and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that "extremist individuals" in the U.S. government were pursuing dangerous policies.

Houthi-run Masirah TV earlier said the group had carried out drone attacks on "vital" Saudi installations in response to "continued aggression and blockade" on Yemen. An Arab coalition has been battling the Houthis for four years in Yemen to try to restore the internationally recognized government.

The Houthis have repeatedly hit Saudi cities with drones and missiles, but two Saudi sources told Reuters this was the first time a facility of state-run Aramco had been attacked by drones.

Aramco said it had temporarily shut down the East-West pipeline, known as Petroline, to evaluate its condition. The pipeline mainly transports crude from the kingdom's eastern fields to the port of Yanbu, which lies north of Bab al-Mandab.

Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the latest attacks caused a fire, now contained, and minor damage at one pump station, but did not disrupt oil output or exports of crude and petroleum products.

In comments run by state media, he said the drone attack and Sunday's sabotage of four vessels off the emirate of Fujairah, a major bunkering hub, threatened global oil supplies.

"These attacks prove again that it is important for us to face terrorist entities, including the Houthi militias in Yemen that are backed by Iran," Falih said in an English-language statement issued by his ministry.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard threatened last month to close the narrow waterway that separates Iran from the Arabian Peninsula if Iranian vessels were barred from using it.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:May 15, 2019
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