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 as world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
"The evidence could be released this week," a senior US official told The National. "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 said. 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 future. “We are sending additional assets to our allies, based on their needs and what they requested,” the official said.
He said 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 that “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 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 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 want a war so we level more sanctions to increase pressure, but this is not the response Iran wants.”
GCC foreign ministers with the exception of Qatar met in New York on Sunday night and will meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today to discuss Iran.
A senior Gulf official said in New York 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 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 [deal], 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 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.
The senior Gulf official said: “We must work to engage the US, the Europeans, and the international community in collective diplomacy.”
Three European states blamed Iran for carrying out the attack on Saudi Arabia in a joint statement released yesterday.
“The time has come for Iran to accept a long-term negotiation framework for its nuclear programme, as well as regional security issues, which include its missile programmes,” the governments said in a joint statement after French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in New York.
“These attacks may have been against Saudi Arabia but they concern all countries and increase the risk of a major conflict.
“They underline the importance of making collective efforts towards regional stability and security.”
Iran has mounted an intense diplomatic campaign to reject the accusations this week.
Mr Johnson said Iran was very likely to have carried out the attack: “We have no other workable hypothesis about how that happened. That presents the world with a very difficult position. How do we respond?”
While the three countries reiterated support for the 2015 nuclear deal, Mr Johnson has backed President Donald Trump’s push for a new Iran negotiation. “Let’s do a better deal,” he said. “I think there’s one guy who can do a better deal ... and that is the president of the United States. I hope there will be a Trump deal.
“Whatever your objections to the old nuclear deal with Iran, it’s time now to move forward and do a new deal.”
Mr Trump welcomed Mr Johnson’s comments.
“That’s why he’s a winner and that’s why he’s going to be successful in the UK,” the US president said in Manhattan.