As US Hints Retaliation Against Iran, Conflict Is Fraught With dangers

Oil prices surged almost 20% at one point on Monday, with Brent crude posting its biggest intraday gain since the Gulf War in 1991, after an attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities at the weekend halved the kingdom's production.

The tweets followed a National Security Council meeting at the White House that included Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry pinned the blame squarely on Iran for "an attack on the global economy and the global energy market".

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".

"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 U.S. diplomat said.

Military strikes hit key crude production facilities in Saudi Arabia over the weekend, curtailing Saudi Arabian oil production by some 5.7 million barrels per day.

The senior official told ABC News the president is fully aware that Iran is responsible, but he wants the Saudis to acknowledge it if they want USA help. "There's no other candidate", a USA official said on Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the internal deliberations.

The White House said on Sunday that Trump may still meet Iran President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations meeting in NY next week, but Tehran said Monday it did not think "such a thing would happen".

The attacks and recriminations are increasing already heightened fears of an escalation in the region, after a prominent USA senator suggested striking Iranian oil refineries in response to the assault, and Iran warned of the potential of more violence.

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The attack on plants in the heartland of Saudi Arabia's oil industry, including the world's biggest petroleum-processing facility at Abqaiq, came from the direction of Iran, and cruise missiles may have been used, a US official said.

US benchmark West Texas crude was up around 9 per cent. USA gasoline and heating oil similarly were up over 8 per cent and 7 per cent respectively before markets opened in NY.

Saudi Arabia has promised to fill in the cut in production with its reserves, but has not said how long it will take to fix the damage.

In Washington, Trump said he had approved the release of USA strategic petroleum reserves "if needed" to stabilize energy markets.

"To take out over 5% of global supply in a single strike - a volume exceeding cumulative non-OPEC supply growth over 2014-2018 - is highly worrying", UBS analysts said in a note.

Iran's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Sunday called the U.S. allegations "meaningless" and said they were meant to justify actions against Iran. He did not elaborate. Hajizadeh, the brigadier general who leads the country's aerospace program, said in an interview published across Iranian media Sunday that Revolutionary Guard forces were ready for a counterattack if America responded, naming the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar and Al-Dhafra Air Base near Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates as immediate targets, as well as U.S. Navy ships in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

In his statement on Monday, foreign ministry spokesman Mousavi added: "As we have stated before, if the Americans return to the JCPOA and cease their economic terrorism, they can return to the joint commission and talk".

He believed Rouhani, the Iranian President, had enlisted militia groups in a calculated move.

Washington has imposed its "maximum pressure" strategy on Iran since a year ago when Trump pulled out of an worldwide deal that gave Tehran access to world trade in return for curbs on its nuclear program. And Pompeo had told reporters days earlier that "the President has made clear he is happy to take a meeting with no preconditions".

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