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Pompeo Says 'Quite Possible' Iran Behind Gulf Incidents

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister following their talks in Sochi, May 14, 2019.

AFP - U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Tuesday it was "quite possible" Iran was responsible for sabotage of Gulf oil interests as he prepared to brief lawmakers on rising tensions.

Pompeo cautioned that the United States has not made "a definitive conclusion" that can be presented publicly over mysterious sabotage incidents of oil tankers off the United Arab Emirates or drone strikes on a crude pipeline in Saudi Arabia.

"But given all the regional conflicts that we have seen over the past decade and the shape of these attacks, it seems like it's quite possible that Iran was behind these," Pompeo told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

"Most importantly, we will continue to take acts that protect American interests and that work to deter Iran from misbehavior in the region, which has the real risk of escalating the situation such that crude oil prices rise," he said.

Yemen's Houthi rebels, who are allied with Iran and are being hit hard by U.S.-backed Saudi airstrikes, claimed responsibility last week for a drone strike on a major east-west pipeline in the kingdom, which was forced to shut down temporarily.

President Donald Trump has warned, "If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran" -- but also on Monday downplayed the Iranian threat to US interests.

Pompeo is due later Tuesday to brief US lawmakers on Iran alongside acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan and the top US military officer, General Joseph Dunford.

Some Republican allies of Trump have called for the United States to be ready with a major military response, but leading Democrats have accused the White House of hyping the intelligence, saying that Iran's actions were predictable responses to U.S. moves.

Tensions have risen sharply in recent months as the Trump administration has vowed to cut off all oil exports from Iran and designated the elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group.