Topline: Iran foreign minister Javad Zarif warned Thursday that if the U.S. or Saudi Arabia strikes back over weekend attacks on Saudi oil pipelines, it would be considered an act of “all-out war,” the most threatening language used yet as tensions have escalated in the region.
- Zarif continued to deny Tehran had a hand in the September 14 pipeline attacks. He maintained the attacks were carried out by the Houthis, an Iranian-backed group of rebels from Yemen.
- The Houthis also released a statement taking responsibility for the pipeline attacks.
- But U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo said Iran committed an “act of war” during a Thursday visit to Saudi Arabia.
- Zarif said Iran was open to negotiations, under the condition the U.S. eased all sanctions placed on it after Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal last year.
- Trump imposed additional sanctions on Iran Wednesday in response to the pipeline attacks.
- Saudi Arabia is the world’s leading oil supplier, and the attacks decreased its output by half. Market prices for oil have increased sharply since the attack, and as of Thursday morning, were trading up over 2%.
Crucial quote: “I am making a very serious statement that we don’t want to engage in a military confrontation. But we won’t blink to defend our territory,” said Zarif.
What to watch for: How Trump responds and whether he will actually carry out any military action against Iran. Although Trump has threatened retaliation before (he tweeted Wednesday the U.S. is “locked and loaded”), his track record is decidedly more dovish, relying instead on ever-escalating sanctions.
Key background: A complicated series of incidents unfolded in the Persian Gulf this summer, stemming from Trump imposing sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, severely crippling the country’s economy. In June, two oil tankers were attacked off Iran’s coast. A week later, Iran shot down a U.S. drone for invading its airspace, which the U.S. denied. In July, Iran said it breached the limit of enriched uranium it was allowed to have on hand, as laid out in the 2015 nuclear deal. Also that month: Iran captured foreign oil tankers, and the U.S. claimed it shot down an Iranian drone.