International Response to Attack on Saudi Oil Urges Caution

A picture taken on September 15, 2019 shows the entrance of an Aramco oil facility near al-Khurj area, just south of the Saudi capital Riyadh. - Saudi Arabia raced today to restart operations at oil plants hit by drone attacks which slashed its production by half, as Iran dismissed US …
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty

The international response to an apparent Iranian attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil fields urged caution and a careful investigation before assigning blame for the strike or taking retaliatory action. Many of these responses suggested the world’s oil supply is robust enough to absorb the loss of Saudi production without major economic disruptions.

President Donald Trump’s response to the attack on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia indicated “there is reason to believe that we know the culprit” but the United States is “waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of the attack, and under what terms we should proceed.”

On Monday, Trump pledged to help America’s allies in the region even though “we don’t need Middle Eastern oil and gas, and in fact have very few tankers there.”

Energy Secretary Rick Perry echoed the president’s assessment of the modest impact on America’s oil supply, while flatly accusing Iran of perpetrating the attack. “Despite Iran’s malign efforts we are very confident that the market is resilient and will respond positively,” Perry told the annual meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“The United States wholeheartedly condemns Iran’s attack on Saudi Arabia and we call on other nations to do the same. This behaviour is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable and they must be held responsible. Make no mistake about it. This was an attack on the global economy and the global energy market,” Perry told the IAEA. 

Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak agreed that “the world has enough commercial stockpiles to cover the shortage” for the time being. 

Novak told reporters in Moscow that Russia intends to abide by production caps established during the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (OPEC) effort to shore up prices during years of abundant supply, while the Kremlin indicated Russia will wait to see if production increases are necessary to offset the lost Saudi oil. 

OPEC Secretary General Mohammed Barkindo reportedly said on Monday the organization is confident “the situation has been brought under control by the Saudi authorities” and no further action is necessary at this time. On the other hand, some analysts warned the damage to market confidence inflicted by the attack could be magnified because Saudi Arabia is usually seen as a vital buffer against oil shocks – the supplier that can most easily and reliably ramp up production to cover for shortfalls.

The Kremlin on Monday urged “all countries in the region and outside of it to avoid any hasty steps or conclusions which may deepen destabilization.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry made some hasty conclusions of its own by suggesting the attack on Saudi Arabia was “a direct consequence of the ongoing sharp military and political crisis in Yemen” – in other words, the Saudis and their American allies had it coming.

“We believe it is counterproductive to use what happened to increase tensions around Iran in line with the well-known U.S. policy. Proposals on tough retaliatory actions, which appear to have been discussed in Washington are even more unacceptable,” said the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry took a similar approach, declaring Beijing’s opposition to “any moves that expand or intensify conflict.”

“Pondering who is to blame in the absence of a conclusive investigation I think is in itself not very responsible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday.

“We call on relevant parties to avoid taking actions that bring about an escalation in regional tensions. We hope all sides can restrain themselves and can jointly safeguard the peace and stability of the Middle East,” Hua said.

The European Union (EU) called the attack on Saudi oil facilities “a real threat to regional security” in a statement released on Sunday.

“At a time when tensions in the region are running high, this attack undermines ongoing work at de-escalation and dialogue,” the EU said.

“”It is important to clearly establish the facts and determine responsibility for this deplorable attack. At the same time the European Union repeats its call for maximum restraint and de-escalation,” the statement said.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the attack, which he noted has been “claimed by the Houthis,” the Iran-supported insurgents in Yemen. Guterres called upon all parties to “exercise maximum restraint, prevent any escalation amid heightened tensions and to comply at all times with International Humanitarian Law.”

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the attack “a wanton violation of international law” but added that “in terms of who is responsible, the picture is not entirely clear.”

“This was a very serious attack on Saudi Arabia and the oil installations and it has implications for global oil markets and supply. It’s a very serious, an outrageous act, and we need to have a clear and as united as possible international response to it,” said Raab.

The French Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that it “firmly condemns” the attack and warned such actions “can only worsen regional tensions and risk of conflict.” The Germans said they are “analyzing” the attack to determine “who is responsible” and “how it could happen.”

The response from Saudi Arabia itself has been muted so far, but on Monday the Saudis indicated the drones employed in the attack on its oil facilities were of Iranian origin.

Iran denied responsibility for the attack on Sunday and threatened to attack U.S. military assets in the region if any action is taken against it.

“Everybody should know that all American bases and their aircraft carriers in a distance of up to 2,000 kilometers around Iran are within the range of our missiles,” said the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) aerospace forces.

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