On September 18, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities an “act of war.” Pompeo, who was traveling to the kingdom to discuss a response, told reporters the September 14 strikes had the "fingerprints of the Ayatollah." He denied claims that the attacks originated in Yemen. "As for how we know, the equipment used is unknown to be in the Houthi arsenal. These line attack cruise missiles we have never seen there and we think we’ve seen most everything,” Pompeo said. Pompeo said he would try to build an international coalition to deter Iran during his trip to the Middle East. He added that Washington would rally support for unified action against Tehran at the United Nations General Assembly later in September. The following are his remarks to reporters.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE REMARKS TO TRAVELING PRESS
Secretary Michael R. Pompeo | September 19, 2019
Al Bateen Airport Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
SECRETARY POMPEO: I was sent here to work to make sure that I understood how our friends and allies here in the region were viewing the challenge and the threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran. I certainly accomplished that, and I think I’ll be able to give the President some important information about how it is we should think about proceeding.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, did you gather any new evidence that shows who was behind the attacks? And do you think you have a slam-dunk case to bring to the UN next week?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I think it’s abundantly clear and there is an enormous consensus in the region that we know precisely who conducted these attacks. It was Iran. I didn’t hear anybody in the region who doubted that for a single moment.
QUESTION: Given Zarif’s comments today, about an act of “all-out war,” does that change the calculation, and do you think there’s an opportunity for some sort of peaceful resolution to this?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Certainly that’s what President Trump – it’s what America always – wants. We’d like a peaceful resolution, indeed. I think we’ve demonstrated that. They’ve taken down American UAVs, now conducted the largest attack on the globe’s energy in an awfully long time, and we are still striving to build out a coalition. I was here in an act of diplomacy. While the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war and to fight to the last American, we’re here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution to this. That’s my mission set, what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve, and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it the same way. There’s no evidence of that from his statement, but I hope that that’s the case.
QUESTION: And sanctions, is there anything left to sanction on Iran? The President said there’d be more coming.
SECRETARY POMPEO: There will be. There will be more sanctions. We have set about a course of action to deny Iran the capacity and the wealth so that they can conduct their terrorist – to prevent them from conducting their terror campaigns. And you can see from the events of last week there’s still more work to do. We’re going to continue to drive towards that end.
You cannot fail to see the failed policy of giving money to this regime by what happened in Saudi Arabia, right. The previous administration chose to give $150 billion. There are still those today who think, boy, if we just give Iran just a little bit more money, they’ll become a peaceful nation. We can see that that does not work. And so the President’s direction to us, to continue to prevent them having the capacity to underwrite Hizballah, Shia militias in Iraq, their own missile program, all the things that they have done to pose a threat to the world, that’s the mission set with our economic sanctions.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE REMARKS TO TRAVELING PRESS
Secretary Michael R. Pompeo | September 18, 2019
En Route to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
QUESTION: You can start with making the case about why this could not come from the Houthis.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah. It didn’t come from the Houthis. I would begin by this, and I’ll certainly address that. It doesn’t matter. This was an Iranian attack. It’s not the case that you can subcontract out the devastation of five percent of the world’s global energy supply and think that you can absolve yourself of responsibilities. So, I’d say that from the beginning. Were it the case that the Houthis’ fraudulent claim was accurate, were that true – it’s not, but were that true, it doesn’t change the fingerprints of the Ayatollah as having put at risk the global energy supply. And Americans and Saudis who reside in Saudi Arabia too were at risk. We’re blessed that there were no Americans killed in this attack, but any time you have an act of war of this nature, there’s always risk that that could happen.
As for how we know, the equipment used is unknown to be in the Houthi arsenal. So we watched clearly and have a deep understanding of what the Iranians have transferred to the Houthis over – goodness, it’s been since I think 2011 since the Iranians began shipping significant weapon systems to the Houthis, 2011 – maybe it’s ’13. But it’s been going on for six or eight years, since long before the JCPOA was filed. And that money and wealth and weapon systems have been sitting there, but we’ve never seen these particular systems, these light attack cruise missiles we have never seen there. And we think we’ve seen most everything.
So the Intelligence Community has high confidence that these were not weapons that would have been in the possession of the Houthis. That’s probably the most important piece of information. The second piece is if you stare at the flight patterns that had to have taken place given the impact and what you can see when you see the pictures, you should – if you all go hire the best analysts to go look at the damage to these facilities, they didn’t come from the south. And Yemen is nearly due south of most of all of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. These attacks didn’t come from there.
QUESTION: If it didn’t come from there, did it come from Iran, or did it come from southern Iraq? Where is the view that it would come from there?
SECRETARY POMPEO: By the way, that makes the Houthis’ claims false, right. Just so we’re tracking back to your original question, that means these people lie. And so whatever you report about them, you say, “the Houthis said,” you should say, “the well-known, frequently lying Houthis have said the following.” This is important, because you ought not report them as if these are truth-tellers, as if these are people who aren’t completely under the boot of the Iranians, and who would not at the direction of the Iranians lay claim to attacks which they did not engage in, which clearly was the case here.
QUESTION: But how does that war end, though?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I know you care deeply about that, good reporting. Let me just try and close out. So we also know that these are systems that the Iranians have not deployed anyplace else, that they have not deployed outside of their country, to the best of our knowledge. We’ve not seen them deploy these types of UAV systems with the kinds of ranges and capabilities, nor have we seen them place these missiles where they could have done it. We’ve seen no evidence that it came from Iraq. It could well have traveled over Kuwait. We’ve not seen that either.
QUESTION: How do you restore deterrence, then? Because that seems to be the main message.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, that’s my mission here is to work with our partners in the region. We will be working with our European partners as well. I’ve spoken to I think all of them at least once or twice. I’ve spoken with the crown prince of the Emirates. I’ll see him. I’ve spoken to him, yes, a couple times I think. We are working to build out a coalition to develop a plan to deter them. And this is what needs to happen. This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before.
QUESTION: Aren’t you concerned that after $80 million a year the Saudis can’t pick up on their radar systems cruise missiles that are crossing the Persian Gulf?
SECRETARY POMPEO: Look, we’ve seen air defense systems all around the world have mixed success. Some of the finest in the world don’t always pick things up. We want to work to make sure that infrastructure and resources are put in place such that attacks like this would be less successful than this one appears to have been.
The last thing I’ll say is there is this theme that some suggest that the President’s strategy that we allowed isn’t working. I would argue just the converse of that. I would argue that what you are seeing here is a direct result of us reversing the enormous failure of the JCPOA.
Fifty-five weeks from now, the whole world can sell exactly these missile systems, conventional missile systems to the Iranian Government unencumbered by any sanctions under 55 weeks from now. Does anybody think that that was a genius idea to allow them to have the whole world be able to actually sell them missile systems? They’d have more complex ones but for the sanctions we put in place that have prevented them from getting access to money, most importantly, but also parts, spare parts, information technology – all the things that go into building out production-level threats to the world.
The sanctions that the United States has put in place have slowed that down, and that’s important. And you see it. You see it in Hizballah, who hasn’t got as much money. You watch them having to make decisions about their defense budget. Those are the right pathways. And you talked about how do you restore deterrence. That’s it – you deny the aggressor the wealth and resources to commit acts of war and terrorism around the world.
QUESTION: Are the Iranians going to be at the UN next week? I thought that they were saying they haven’t gotten visas. So is the U.S. going to issue visas?
SECRETARY POMPEO: We don’t talk about the granting or absence of granting of visas. I would say this: If you’re connected to a foreign terrorist organization, I don’t know, it seems to me it would be a reasonable thing to think about whether they ought to be prevented to attend a meeting which is about peace.
The actions that the Iranian regime took violated the UN charter. I spoke with Secretary Guterres about it yesterday. He reminded me not only did they violate the UN charter, it violated international human rights law as well. Secretary-General Guterres said that.
QUESTION: Will you be making your case to the UN Security Council next week?
SECRETARY POMPEO: I’m confident that in New York we’ll talk a lot about this and that the Saudis will too. The Saudis were the nation that was attacked. It was on their soil. It was an act of war against them directly, and I’m confident they will do that.