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US hints at military response to Saudi attacks as oil prices surge

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Oil prices made their biggest jump since the Gulf War on Monday after President Donald Trump warned that the US was “locked and loaded” to respond to attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure that Washington blamed on Iran.

It is the first time the president has hinted at a potential American military response to the drone attacks, which slashed Saudi oil production by half and led both the kingdom and the United States to announce they may tap their strategic reserves.

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“Saudi Arabia oil supply was attacked. There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!” Trump tweeted.

China on Monday urged the US and Iran to “exercise restraint… in the absence of a conclusive investigation or verdict”.

The Tehran-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is bogged down in a five-year war, claimed Saturday’s strikes on two plants owned by state energy giant Aramco.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pointed the finger squarely at Tehran, saying there was no evidence the “unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply” was launched from Yemen.

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“The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression,” the top US diplomat said.

That drew an angry response from Tehran, where foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such fruitless and blind accusations and remarks are incomprehensible and meaningless.”

The White House said on Sunday that Trump may still meet Iran President Hassan Rouhani at the UN meeting in New York next week, but Tehran said Monday it did not think “such a thing would happen”.

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Baghdad, caught between its two main allies — Tehran and Washington — also denied any link to the attacks amid media speculation that the drones were launched from Iraq.

Saudi de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said the kingdom is “willing and able” to respond to this “terrorist aggression.”

But a tit-for-tat strike on Iranian oil fields is “highly unlikely,” Middle East expert James Dorsey told AFP.

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“The Saudis do not want an open conflict with Iran. The Saudis would like others to fight that war, and the others are reluctant,” said Dorsey, from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

– ‘Genie is out of the bottle’ –

The attacks sent oil prices sky-rocketing on Monday, with Brent futures up $12 — or nearly 20 percent — in the first few minutes of business, while WTI jumped more than $8, or 15 percent.

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It was the biggest rise since the 1990-1991 Gulf War.

Saturday’s explosions set off fires that engulfed the Abqaiq plant, the world’s largest oil processing facility, and nearby Khurais, which hosts a massive oil field.

Saudi’s energy infrastructure has been hit by the Huthis many times before, but this strike was of a different order, abruptly halting 5.7 million barrels per day (bpd) or about six percent of the world’s oil supply.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Bill Farren-Price, director of the London-based RS Energy Group.

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“It is now clear that Saudi and other Gulf oil facilities are vulnerable to this kind of attack, which means that the geopolitical risk premium for oil needs to rise.”

No casualties were reported but the full extent of the damage was not clear.

Aramco also said it will dip into its reserves to offset the disruption. On Saturday, CEO Amin Nasser said that “work is underway” to restore production, but the incident could affect investor confidence ahead of Aramco’s stock market debut.

The company would need weeks to reach full output again, Bloomberg News reported Sunday, citing unnamed sources.

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Trump tweeted that he had “authorized the release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, if needed, in a to-be-determined amount” that is “sufficient to keep the markets well-supplied.”

Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year, when Trump pulled the US out of a landmark 2015 deal with world powers that promised Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

Saudi Arabia has spent billions on military hardware but recent events have underscored the vulnerability of its infrastructure to attack.


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‘Not true’: Fox News calls out Trump for lying about keeping US soldiers out of harm’s way

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As the U.S. military grapples with the logistics of a quick withdrawal from the northern part of Syria, President Donald Trump drew criticism for abandoning the Kurds and endangering U.S. troops. There are also reports that the army's departure has resulted in members of ISIS escaping from prison.

On Wednesday, Trump defended his decision, insisting that U.S. soldiers were not in danger. "Our soldiers are not in harm's way," he said. “That has nothing to do with us,” he added, about the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds at the Turkish-Syrian border.

But top military officials told Fox News that this was not true. "Not true, according to top US military commanders who tell Fox this is a complicated, deliberate phased withdrawal with a lot of inherent risk," Jennifer Griffin, National Security correspondent for Fox News, wrote on Twitter. "Already US warplanes had to warn approaching foreign troops with a show of force."

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‘Worse than Obama’: Lindsey Graham has full-blown freak out over Trump’s latest Syria statements

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Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on Wednesday had a full-blown freak out after President Donald Trump publicly said that the Turkish slaughter of the Kurds in northern Syria was not America's problem.

Writing on Twitter, the senator had his harshest condemnation yet of the president's decision to abruptly pull American troops out of Syria while giving Turkey a green light to invade the area.

"I hope President Trump is right in his belief that Turkeys invasion of Syria is of no concern to us, abandoning the Kurds won’t come back to haunt us, ISIS won’t reemerge, and Iran will not fill the vacuum created by this decision," Graham wrote. "However, I firmly believe that if President Trump continues to make such statements this will be a disaster worse than President Obama’s decision to leave Iraq."

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Ex-GOP lawmaker will run for Senate in Kansas — as a Democrat

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A Kansas state lawmaker who left the Republican Party last year will run next year for the U.S. Senate -- as a Democrat.

State Sen. Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills) will run for the seat held since 1997 by the retiring Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), reported the Associated Press.

Republicans have not lost a U.S. Senate race in Kansas since 1932, but Democrats are feeling more confident with the victories last year of Gov. Laura Kelly and Rep. Sharice Davids.

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