Trump Approves Oil Release From Reserve After Attack On Saudi Sites

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on the tensions in the Persian Gulf a day after Iran-backed Yemeni rebels attacked major oil sites in Saudi Arabia (all times local):

President Donald Trump says he has approved the release of U.S. strategic petroleum reserves “if needed” to stabilize energy markets after a Saturday attack on Saudi Arabian energy facilities.

Trump tweets that the attacks could have an impact on oil prices and says the final amount of the release, if any, would be “sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied.”

The authorization alone could help prevent a spike in oil prices after the attack led to suspension of more than 5% of the world’s daily crude oil production. The Trump administration has blamed the attack on Iran.

The federally owned petroleum reserve of hundreds of millions of barrels of crude oil has only been tapped three times, most recently in 2011 amid unrest in Libya.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia oil facilities mean that a return to full production may take weeks. That could mean a spike in oil prices as traders worry about supply, with potential negative consequences for the global economy.

The Journal reports that Saudi officials say a third of crude output will be restored Monday. Officials said they would use other facilities and existing stocks to supplant the gap in production.

The weekend drone attacks hit Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil processing facility and a major oil field, halting production of 5.7 million barrels of crude a day, about half of the country’s global daily output and more than 5% of the world’s daily production.

Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, but U.S. officials say Iran is responsible. Iran denies it.

11:15 p.m.

Senior U.S. officials are citing intelligence assessments, including satellite imagery, to support their case that Iran was responsible for Saturday’s attacks on key Saudi Arabian oil infrastructure.

The officials say the intelligence shows that the strikes are inconsistent with the kind of attack that would have been launched from Yemen.

The U.S. government is releasing satellite imagery showing what officials say are at least 19 points of impact at two Saudi energy facilities. The officials say the photos show impacts consistent with attack coming from the direction of Iran, rather than from Yemen.

The officials say additional devices, which apparently didn’t reach their targets, have been recovered and are being analyzed by Saudi and American intelligence agencies.

The officials are speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters.

—Associated Press writer Zeke Miller

Satellite images examined by The Associated Press appear to show damage at the heart of a Saudi oil processing facility targeted in a claimed drone attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels.

The images Sunday come from the European Commission’s Sentinel-2 satellite.

The images appear to show black char marks in the heart of Saudi Aramco’s Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq.

Those marks were not visible in a month’s worth of earlier satellite images of the facility.

The Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies in August identified the area with the char marks as the plant’s stabilization area.

The center said the area’s functions mean “the likelihood of a strike successfully disrupting or destroying its operations.”

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco have said how much damage was done to the facility.

Kuwait says it is increasing security across the oil-rich small nation after an attack on oil sites in Saudi Arabia.

That’s according to a report Sunday night by the state-run KUNA news agency.

KUNA said the order came from Prime Minister Jaber Al Mubarak Al Sabah, who asked officials to “tighten security measures around vital sites inside of the country.”

Separately, KUNA said authorities would investigate reports of drones flying over Kuwait. It did not elaborate.

Local Kuwaiti media has reported that witnesses say they saw a drone near a presidential palace on Saturday morning, around the same time of the attacks in Saudi Arabia.

Germany is condemning the attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia and calling for de-escalation in the region.

The Foreign Ministry in Berlin said in a statement Sunday that “there can be no justification for such an attack on Saudi Arabia’s civilian and critical infrastructure.”

It noted that Yemen’s Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for the attack and said it “heightens tensions” in the region when de-escalation is “urgently” needed.

The statement didn’t mention Iran, which the U.S. alleges was behind Saturday’s attacks.

A leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebels says they were able to “exploit vulnerabilities” in Saudi Arabia’s air defense system to stage the attack previous day on the kingdom’s vital oil installations.

Muhammad al-Bukhaiti told The Associated Press on Sunday that the U.S. allegations that Iran was behind the attack reflected “political bankruptcy” of the administration in Washington.

The drone attack claimed by the Houthis hit the world’s largest oil processing facility and a major oil field on Saturday, sparking huge fires at a vulnerable chokepoint for global energy supplies.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for the attacks and said that here’s “no evidence the attacks came from Yemen.”

Pompeo said on Saturday that “Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has condemned the drone attack on Saudi oil installations, describing it as an escalation that could widen conflicts in the region.

Hariri said in a statement on Sunday that the attack the day before in Saudi Arabia should push the international community to rein in “all the arms of aggression and terrorism that are striking Arab countries.”

Hariri said Lebanon stands by Saudi Arabia, adding that the latest “aggression” against the kingdom is part of attacks targeting Gulf Arab states and also undermines regional and international security.

Iran’s foreign minister says that blaming Iran for Yemeni rebel attacks on major Saudi oil sites will not end the war in the Arab world’s most impoverished country — but that talks might.

Mohammad Javad Zarif also said in a tweet on Sunday that “Having failed at ‘max pressure’, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo turning to ‘max deceit’.”

He also says: “US & its clients are stuck in Yemen because of illusion that weapon superiority will lead to military victory.”

Zarif also tweeted: “Blaming Iran won’t end disaster. Accepting our April ’15 proposal to end war & begin talks may.”

Late Saturday, Pompeo directly blamed Iran for the attack on major Saudi oil sites, without offering evidence to support his claim.

Iraq is denying that its country was the site from where Yemeni-rebel drones were launched to attack Saudi oil installations.

The statement came from Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi’s office on Sunday.

It says Iraq would act “decisively” if anyone tried to use its territory to attack other countries.

U.S. officials previously alleged at least one recent drone attack on Saudi Arabia came from Iraq, where Iran backs Shiite militias, something denied by Baghdad. Those militias in recent weeks have been targeted themselves by mysterious airstrikes, with at least one believed to have been carried out by Israel.

12:10 p.m.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed the U.S. accusation that it was behind an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure the day before, calling it part of Washington’s policy of “maximum lies.”

Abbas Mousavi made the statement on Sunday.

He says Washington adopted a ‘maximum pressure’ policy against Iran but because of “its failure, (the U.S.) is leaning toward ‘maximum lies’” now.

Saturday’s drone attacks by Iranian-backed Yemeni rebels have halted about half of Saudi oil supplies after hitting the kingdom’s biggest oil processing facility and a major oil field.

They set off huge fires and led to a suspension of “production operations” at the Abqaiq facility and the Khurais field.

President Donald Trump called the Saudi crown prince after the attack, expressing U.S. support for the kingdom’s security and stability.