Trump
© Reuters/Brian Snyder
US President Donald Trump
As American and Saudi Arabian officials blame Iran for attacking Saudi oil refineries, President Donald Trump has remained noncommittal about a US response, calling his prior restraint a "sign of strength."

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles on Wednesday, the US president said that he would outline new sanctions on Iran within 48 hours, after announcing them via Twitter earlier in the day. While it would be "very easy" to attack Iran, his reluctance to do so is "a sign of strength," Trump added.

That statement echoed his reply on Tuesday to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who called Trump's cancelation of military strikes on Iran in June a "sign of weakness."

Graham, the former wingman of the hawkish Senator John McCain, has emerged as one of the loudest proponents of retaliatory strikes in recent days, declaring the oil refinery attack an "act of war," and calling for an "unequivocal" response. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also described the attack as an "act of war," while Vice President Mike Pence said on Tuesday that America is "locked and loaded" to defend her Saudi allies.

Trump, on the other hand, has been more ambivalent. Stopping short of outright pointing the finger at Iran the president said on Monday that it was "certainly looking" like Iran was behind the attack, adding that "we pretty much already know" Tehran is to blame.


Regarding a response, Trump has boasted of the US military's readiness to strike, but said that he would "certainly like to avoid" war.

While Trump's response may seem unduly measured, the president had signaled something of a softer attitude towards Iran in the days before the weekend's attacks. After saying last week that he would have "no problem," meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Trump even gave a "we'll see what happens" when asked if he'd consider lifting sanctions to get Rouhani to the table. The attacks on Saudi oil facilities, however, seem to have put paid to that.

Houthi rebels in Yemen - against whom Saudi Arabia has been waging war since 2015 - claimed responsibility for the strike, and Iran denies all connection with it. However, Saudi officials claimed at a press conference on Wednesday that it was "unquestionably sponsored by Iran," and presented the wreckage of Iranian missiles and drones as proof.

Yet the Saudis could not pinpoint a launch site, nor prove that the Houthis did not launch the supposed Iranian projectiles of their own accord. Likewise, Hesameddin Ashena, an adviser to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, asked why the Saudis' air defenses "failed to thwart the attack."