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US official says Iran behind Saudi attack, Pence warns of possible strikes

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The United States has concluded that an attack on Saudi oil facilities was launched from Iran, a US official said Tuesday as Vice President Mike Pence again warned that the US military is “locked and loaded” for a possible response.

The official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said the strike involved cruise missiles and that evidence would be presented at the UN General Assembly next week.

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Pence announced that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was on his way to Saudi Arabia to “discuss our response.”

“As the president said, we don’t want war with anybody but the United States is prepared,” Pence said in a speech to the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

“We’re locked and loaded and we’re ready to defend our interests and allies in the region, make no mistake about it,” he said, echoing President Donald Trump’s words on Monday.

The apparent hardening of the US position came as Iran’s supreme leader ruled out negotiations with Washington “at any level.”

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However, continuing days of mixed messaging from the White House, spokesman Hogan Gidley refused to rule out a possible — albeit now highly unlikely — encounter between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations next week.

Trump is “obligated to try and find peace,” he said.

– Iran-Saudi proxy war –

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Yemen’s Iranian-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility for Saturday’s oil installation attacks, which halved output from the petro-state, the world’s biggest crude producer and a close ally of Washington.

The Huthis are at war with Saudi-backed forces in Yemen, turning the impoverished nation into a proxy battlefield for bitter regional rivals Tehran and Riyadh.

The increasingly complex conflict dovetails with the Trump administration’s attempt to curb Iranian power through a “maximum pressure” campaign of crippling economic sanctions.

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Trump began that campaign after unilaterally pulling out of a 2015 international deal meant to reward Iran for allowing restrictions on its nuclear industry. He says that Tehran is secretly cheating and trying to build nuclear weapons and must be stopped.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Washington’s real goal was to bring his country to its knees.

“The policy of ‘maximum pressure’ against the Iranian nation is worthless and all Islamic Republic of Iran officials unanimously believe there will be no negotiations with the US at any level,” he said in a televised address.

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Khamenei also said that as long as sanctions are in place, direct talks are impossible, including a meeting at the UN.

“Without this, no negotiations will happen at any level between the Islamic Republic of Iran’s officials and the Americans, not during the visit to New York or any other visit,” he said.

– Support for war? –

Whether the new stage of the long-running US-Iranian standoff leads to a shooting war is the big unknown.

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Saudi Arabia, which has bought huge quantities of US weaponry, is considered a strategic ally in the region, second to Israel, another bitter foe of Iran.

Trump called off a retaliatory US missile attack on Iran in June after the Iranians shot down a spy drone. He said he did not want to kill what generals told him could be up to 150 people.

He has indicated that he may no longer feel that restraint.

“I’m not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to,” he said Monday. “That was a very large attack, and it could be met by an attack many, many times larger.”

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AFP / FAYEZ NURELDINE World crude prices soared to levels not seen since the 1991 Gulf War after the strikes on two Saudi oil facilities

US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper labelled Iran a destabilizing force in the region, but stopped short of directly accusing Tehran over the strikes.

The US military, he said, was working with its partners to “address this unprecedented attack.”

In Congress, Republican Senator Mitt Romney told reporters that the United States should not be drawn into war. “Saudi Arabia is fully capable, with the weapons we’ve sold them, to respond in a way they think is appropriate,” he said.

Another Republican, Senator John Thune, said that if Iran were proven to be behind the Saudi attack, that “crosses a line that hasn’t been crossed before and, yeah, I think it’d be certainly appropriate for the US and allies to respond.”

– Oil market nervous –

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AFP / Gal ROMA Attacks on Saudi oil facilities

The contested strikes hit Abqaiq, the world’s largest oil processing facility, and the Khurais oil field in eastern Saudi Arabia.

Oil markets continued to eye the situation carefully. Prices receded five percent on Tuesday, reversing some of the previous day’s gains as analysts said they were expecting Saudi output to recover sooner than expected after the weekend’s attacks.

As aftershocks continued to ripple across financial markets on Tuesday, energy specialists S&P Platt said around three million barrels per day of Saudi crude would remain offline for at least a month.

Britain and Germany on Tuesday urged the international community to forge a “collective response” to the attacks.

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French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, visiting Cairo, said it was “imperative to put all our efforts together to achieve this de-escalation”.

China condemned the attacks and appealed to all sides to “refrain from taking actions that lead to an escalation of tensions in the region.”


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WATCH: White House protesters chant ‘impeach Trump’ loud enough for aides to hear

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Protesters gathered in front of the White House on Sunday to call on President Donald Trump to be removed from office.

Videos circulated online showed protesters chanting "impeach Trump" close enough to the White House for staff to hear the demonstration.

In other videos, protesters were blowing loud whistles.

Meanwhile, demonstrators also greeted Trump as he visited his New Jersey golf course. Pro-impeachment protesters were also reportedly out on the streets in Boston and New York City.

Watch some of the video clips below.

Outside the White House right now:

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Here are 3 moves a desperate Trump will likely attempt in order to cling to power

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In a column for the Daily Beast, political observer Micheal Tomasky speculated -- and not without good reason -- that a frantic Donald Trump will do anything to remain in office and thereby avoid being slammed with criminal indictments once he departs the Oval Office for good..

As the columnist explained, impeachment seems inevitable and the president will likely take desperate measures and that he has already given hints about three paths he may take -- if not all of them.

Tomasky wrote, "It’s foolish to say that Trump thinks ahead about anything. The late journalist Wayne Barrett said many true things about Trump, but the truest ever was when he observed that Trump says whatever will get him through the next 10 minutes," before adding, "People around him of course are more strategic and are thinking ahead. And they’re all saying and doing and writing things right now that will, if the opportunity presents itself, pave the way for Trump to burn the Constitution."

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Veteran journalist Sam Donaldson: Trump’s rabid followers will never get their ‘white Christian country’ back

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Veteran White House reporter Sam Donaldson insisted on Sunday that President Donald Trump's supporters do not represent the diversity of the United States.

"His strong supporters -- I mean, lock her up, I mean, all the things he says, all the vicious, mean things he says, they love it," Donaldson told CNN host Brian Stelter. "They’re good Americans otherwise. They’ll probably give you the shirt off their back, they’ll help you if you need it, but they have this fixation."

"They want to return this country to the white Christian country that they believe it should be again," he continued. "They don’t want the diversity, and they follow him for this, but they’re not the country. We are a diverse people, we are good and strong because of that.

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