Saudi Arabia wants to avert war in the region but stands ready to respond with “all strength and determination” after last week’s attacks on Saudi oil assets, a senior official said, adding that the ball was now in Iran’s court.
Riyadh has accused Tehran of ordering Tuesday’s drone attacks on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, claimed by Yemen’s Houthi group.
The attack came two days after four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, were sabotaged off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Iran has denied it was behind the attacks which come as Washington and the Islamic republic spar over sanctions and the US military presence in the region, raising concerns about a potential US-Iran conflict.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want a war in the region nor does it seek that,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference on Sunday.
“It will do what it can to prevent this war and at the same time it reaffirms that in the event the other side chooses war, the kingdom will respond with all force and determination, and it will defend itself and its interests.”
A senior Iranian military commander was similarly quoted as saying his country is not looking for war, in comments published in Iranian media on Sunday.
The remarks came as Saudi Arabia’s King Salman invited Gulf and Arab leaders to convene emergency summits in Mecca on May 30 to discuss implications of the attacks.
“The current critical circumstances entail a unified Arab and Gulf stance toward the besetting challenges and risks,” the UAE foreign ministry said.
The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, in a statement about increased maritime patrols, said Gulf countries were “specifically increasing communication and coordination with each other in support of regional naval cooperation and maritime security operations in the Arabian Gulf”.
Their navies and coastguards working with the US Navy, it said.
The UAE has not blamed anyone for the tanker operation, pending an investigation.
No one has claimed responsibility, but two US government sources said last week that US officials believed Iran had encouraged the Houthi group or Iraq-based Shia militias to carry it out. The Houthis claimed the attack on the pipelines.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has dismissed the possibility of war erupting, saying Tehran did not want conflict and no country had the “illusion it can confront Iran”.
This stance was echoed by the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Sunday.
“We are not pursuing war but we are also not afraid of war,” Major General Hossein Salami was cited as saying by the semi-official news agency Tasnim.
Washington has tightened economic sanctions against Iran, trying to cut Tehran’s oil exports to zero, and beefed up the US military presence in the Gulf in response to what it said were Iranian threats to US troops and interests. It has not offered details of the nature of the threat.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed regional developments, including efforts to strengthen security and stability, in a phone call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the Saudi Media Ministry tweeted on Sunday.
“We want peace and stability in the region but we will not sit on our hands in light of the continuing Iranian attack,” al-Jubeir said. “The ball is in Iran’s court and it is up to Iran to determine what its fate will be.”
He said the crew of an Iranian oil tanker that had been towed to Saudi Arabia early this month after a request for help due to engine trouble were still in the kingdom receiving the “necessary care”. The crew are 24 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are adversaries in the Middle East, backing opposite sides in several regional wars.
In a sign of the heightened tension, Exxon Mobil evacuated foreign staff from an oilfield in neighbouring Iraq.
Bahrain on Saturday warned its citizens against travel to Iraq and Iran and asked those already there to return.
The Federal Aviation Administration has issued an advisory to US commercial airliners flying over the waters of the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman to exercise caution.