Dubai, May 20 (AP) Saudi Arabia does not want war but will not hesitate to defend itself against Iran, a top Saudi diplomat said Sunday after the kingdom’s energy sector was targeted this past week amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.
US President Donald Trump, meanwhile, warned Iran that it will face destruction if it seeks a fight, while Iranian officials said their country isn’t looking for war. Trump spoke after a rocket hit near the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, spoke a week after four oil tankers two of them Saudi were targeted in an alleged act of sabotage off the coast of the United Arab Emirates and days after Iran-allied Yemeni rebels claimed a drone attack on a Saudi oil pipeline.
“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia does not want war in the region and does not strive for that… but at the same time, if the other side chooses war, the kingdom will fight this with all force and determination and it will defend itself, its citizens and its interests,” al-Jubeir told reporters.
On Sunday night, the US military command that oversees the Mideast confirmed an explosion outside the US Embassy compound in Baghdad and said there were no U.S. or coalition casualties.
A State Department spokesman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that “a low-grade rocket did land within the International Zone near the US Embassy.” The spokesman said that “attacks on US personnel and facilities will not be tolerated and will be responded to in a decisive manner” and added that the US will hold “Iran responsible if any such attacks are conducted by its proxy militia forces or elements of such forces.”
Earlier, after initial reports of the attack, Trump tweeted a warning to Iranian leaders: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” Trump tweeted.
A senior Iranian military commander was quoted as saying his country is not looking for war, in comments published in Iranian media on Sunday.
Fears of armed conflict were already running high after the White House ordered warships and bombers to the region earlier this month to counter an alleged, unexplained threat from Iran. The US also has ordered nonessential staff out of its diplomatic posts in Iraq.
Trump had appeared to soften his tone in recent days, saying he expected Iran to seek negotiations with his administration. Asked on Thursday if the US might be on a path to war with Iran, the president answered, “I hope not.” Sunday night’s apparent rocket attack was the first such incident since September, when three mortar shells landed in an abandoned lot inside the Green Zone.
Iraqi military spokesman Brig Gen Yahya Rasoul told The Associated Press that a Katyusha rocket fell near the statue of the Unknown Soldier, less than a mile from the US Embassy. He said that the military was investigating the cause but that the rocket was believed to have been fired from east Baghdad. The area is home to Iran-backed Shiite militias.
As tensions escalate between the US and Iran, there have been concerns that Baghdad could once again get caught in the middle , just as it is on the path to recovery. The country hosts more than 5,000 US troops, and is home to powerful Iranian-backed militias, some of whom want those US forces to leave.
The US Navy said Sunday it had conducted exercises in the Arabian Sea with the aircraft carrier strike group ordered to the region to counter the unspecified threat from Iran. The Navy said the exercises and training were conducted Friday and Saturday with the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group in coordination with the US Marine Corps, highlighting US “lethality and agility to respond to threat,” as well as to deter conflict and preserve US strategic interests.
The current tensions are rooted in Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord between Iran and world powers and impose wide-reaching sanctions, including on Iranian oil exports that are crucial to its economy. Iran has said it would resume enriching uranium at higher levels if a new nuclear deal is not reached by July 7. That would potentially bring it closer to being able to develop a nuclear weapon, something Iran insists it has never sought.