ISTANBUL — Iran’s supreme leader on Tuesday ruled out direct negotiations with the United States, a day after President Donald Trump stopped short of directly blaming Iran for a major attack on Saudi Arabian oil installations, allaying, at least for the moment, fears of a military conflict between the two countries.
The comments by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appeared to rule out a face-to-face meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations next week. “All the officials in the Islamic Republic unanimously believe that there will be no negotiations at any level with the United States,” Khamenei said, according to remarks published on his website.
He said that if the United States returns to the nuclear deal that Tehran struck with world powers, then it could take part in negotiations with Iran along with the agreement’s other signatories.
Khamenei’s comments came after officials in Washington and Riyadh spent the day analyzing satellite photos and other intelligence that they said indicates that Iranian weapons were used in the assault Saturday on the Saudi Aramco facilities. But they presented no new information that would conclusively show that Iran directed or launched the attacks on multiple installations, which Saudi officials said led to a 50 percent reduction in oil production.
U.S. officials rejected claims by Houthi rebels in Yemen, who receive Iranian support, that they had launched the strikes Saturday. The officials described the attacks as more sophisticated and powerful than anything the rebels could accomplish on their own.
But neither Trump nor Saudi leaders would say unequivocally that Iran was responsible.
“It’s looking that way,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, during a meeting with Bahrain’s crown prince. “As soon as we find out definitively, we’ll let you know.”
Trump’s reluctance to assign blame appeared to reflect his long-standing desire to keep the United States out of wars, despite his tweet Sunday that the United States was “locked and loaded depending on verification.”
“I’m not looking to get into new conflict, but sometimes you have to,” Trump said Monday.
Trump did not rule out a military response but made clear that the Saudis would take the lead — and pay the bill.
“The fact is that the Saudis are going to have a lot of involvement in this if we decide to do something. They’ll be very much involved, and that includes payment,” Trump said.
For their part, Saudi officials affirmed that Iranian weapons were used in the attack but also stopped short of singling out Iran in statements that appeared to reflect fears across the Persian Gulf of a wider and more violent conflagration.
Col. Turki al-Malki, the spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, said initial investigations into the strikes on the oil facilities found that “these weapons are Iranian weapons.” He added that the attacks “did not originate in Yemeni territory as claimed by the Houthi militias.”
Malki said investigators were continuing to determine the origin of the attacks and that the final results, including a display of weapons remnants, would be publicly shared “soon.”
“We have the ability to secure vital and economic installations,” Malki said. “But we are dealing with a terrorist attack from terrorist groups.”
A Saudi Foreign Ministry statement released later Monday said the kingdom was inviting United Nations and international experts “to view the situation on the ground and to participate in the investigations.”
“The Kingdom will take the appropriate measures based on the results of the investigation, to ensure its security and stability,” the Foreign Ministry said in its statement, which also called for an international response to what it deemed a threat to “global energy supplies.”
Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that the United States has provided forensic support to the Saudis and would give them “time to conduct an assessment and make an announcement as to what they think happened.”
Speaking in London, Dunford declined to say whether the United States had formally determined that the attack had originated in Iran. But he added: “In the region, wherever it originated from, the most likely threat is either Iran or Iranian-backed proxies.”
Dunford stressed that Trump has made it clear he is not looking to go to war. “Having said that, what we saw was an unacceptable act of aggression. There are a number of ways to deal with that.” Dunford said he would leave it to the president to decide how.
Pentagon officials have urged restraint in any response, arguing against a potentially costly conflict at a time when the U.S. military is seeking to reduce its Middle East footprint, officials familiar with the conversations said.
Iran has denied any involvement in the strikes. China and European countries warned against hastily assigning blame.
The Houthi rebels warned foreigners to leave the area of Saturday’s attacks, which targeted installations belonging to the state-owned oil company, Aramco. The facilities could be targeted again at “any moment,” a Houthi military spokesman said.
“We assure the Saudi regime that our long hand can reach wherever we want, and whenever we want,” spokesman Yahya Saree said in a statement, adding that drones modified with jet engines were used in the operation Saturday.
The Houthis, who seized Yemen’s capital from the internationally recognized government in 2014, have been fighting a devastating war against a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and, according to U.S. and Saudi officials, have received military and logistics support from Iran.
The Houthis also have not provided any proof to support their assertion that they carried out the strikes using what they said was a fleet of 10 drones.
“We don’t need to provide evidence,” Mohammed Albukhaiti, another Houthi spokesman, said in a phone interview Sunday.
For its part, Russia has cautioned against assigning blame too quickly to Iran and taken the opportunity to offer its state-of-the-art antiaircraft technology for sale to Saudi Arabia.
“We are ready to offer Saudi Arabia necessary assistance, and the Saudi political leadership will suffice to make a wise government decision, as Iranian leaders once did, buying S-300 systems and as did [Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan], purchasing from Russia the most advanced S-400 Triumph air defense systems,” President Vladimir Putin said at a news conference in Ankara, the Turkish capital.
Russia, which has benefited from the rise in oil prices brought on by the attacks, has not said whether it will increase production levels to make up for any shortages.
Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, spoke with congressional staffers from the national security committees about the situation in a call Monday afternoon. When asked about the impact of the strikes on the kingdom, Hook responded that the Saudis consider it to be “their 9/11,” according to two people familiar with the call. The comparison to the terrorist attacks in the United States, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, rankled several staffers, said the two people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the details of a private briefing.
Congressional leaders have asked administration officials to hold a briefing on the attacks for lawmakers. An aide on the House Intelligence Committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations, said that is expected to take place later this week.