In this picture released by the official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, left, greets Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr during a mourning ceremony commemorating Ashoura, the death anniversary of Hussein, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019. Shiite Muslims around the world are observing Ashoura, one of the most sacred religious holy days for their sect, which commemorates the death of Hussein, at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq in the 7th century. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Iran's supreme leader: No talks with the US at any level

September 17, 2019 - 10:46 am

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran's supreme leader said Tuesday "there will be no talks with the U.S. at any level"— remarks apparently meant to end all speculation about a possible U.S.-Iran meeting between the two countries' presidents at the U.N. later this month.

Iranian state TV quoted Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who's been personally sanctioned by the Trump administration, as saying this is the position of the entire leadership of the country and that "all officials in the Islamic Republic unanimously believe" this.

"There will be no talks with the U.S. at any level," he said.

His comments come as Iran faces allegations it is behind a devastating weekend attack on a Saudi oil field and the world's largest crude oil processing plant that knocked out 5.7 million barrels of crude oil production per day, or about 5% of the world's daily production. It also took out 2 billion cubic feet of daily gas production.

Aramco, the Saudi oil company targeted, said no workers were injured in the attack.

The attack early Saturday on the kingdom's facilities in the east was claimed as multiple drone strikes by Iranian-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia, however, says the attack did not come from Yemen and said initial investigations show Iranian weapons were used. The kingdom, though, has not yet said where the attack was launched from or what kind of weapons were involved.

The U.S has made similar allegations, going so far as to say the attack may have been launched from Iran itself or nearby Iraq, where Iran has powerful proxy militias on the ground.

Iran has denied the charges.

Saudi Arabia on Tuesday called on the international community "to shoulder its responsibility in condemning the perpetrators" and "clearly confronting" those behind the attack. The government's statements were carried in state-run media following a weekly Cabinet meeting that was overseen by King Salman, who was quoted saying Saudi Arabia is capable of defending against such "cowardly attacks."

Current tensions stem from President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. He also re-imposed and escalated sanctions on Iran that sent the country's economy into freefall, including targeting its oil exports.

Khamenei said the U.S. wants to prove its "maximum pressure policy" against Iran is successful. "In return, we have to prove that the policy is not worth a penny for the Iranian nation," Khamenei said.

"That's why all Iranian officials, from the president and the foreign minister to all others have announced that we do not negotiate (with the U.S.) either bilaterally or multilaterally," he said.

There had been reports about a possible meeting between Trump and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, during the upcoming U.N. General Assembly next week in New York.

Trump declared Monday it "looks" like Iran was behind the explosive attack on the Saudi oil facilities. But he stressed that military retaliation was not yet on the table in response to the strike against a key U.S. Mideast ally.

Trump, alternating between aggressive and nonviolent reactions, said the U.S. could respond "with an attack many, many times larger" but also "I'm not looking at options right now."

Earlier, he had said the U.S. was "locked and loaded." He also said the impact of oil production shortages would not be significant on the U.S., which is a net energy exporter.

Oil prices fell on Tuesday after their biggest single-day jump in years due to the damaging attack. Brent, the international benchmark, is down 5.3% to $65.34. Both rose more than 14% Monday.

Saudi Arabia's energy minister is expected to give an update on the country's oil production at some point Tuesday.

The American Automobile Association, known as AAA, said Tuesday that Americans can expect local pump prices to start to increase this week by as much 25 cents per gallon throughout September.

"Whether this is a short or long term trend will be determined by the price of crude oil prices and how quickly the facilities in Saudi Arabia can recover and get back online," said Jeanette Casselano, AAA spokesperson. 

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said the U.S. was considering dispatching additional military resources to the Gulf but that no decisions had been made. The U.S. already has the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier battle group in the area, as well as fighter jets, bombers, reconnaissance aircraft and air defenses.

American officials released satellite images of the damage at the heart of the kingdom's Abqaiq processing plant and a key oil field, and two U.S. officials said the attackers used multiple cruise missiles and drone aircraft.

Private experts said the satellite images show the attackers had detailed knowledge of which tanks and machinery to hit within the sprawling Saudi oil processing facility at Abqaiq to cripple production. But "satellite imagery can't show you where the attack originated from," said Joe Bermudez, an expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who examined the images.

The Saudis invited the U.N. and other international experts to help investigate, suggesting there was no rush to retaliate and that the kingdom is looking for an internationally backed response to the attack.

For his part, Khamenei on Tuesday reiterated Iran's stance that if the U.S. returns to the nuclear deal, Tehran would consider negotiations.

"Otherwise, no talks will happen ... with the Americans," he said. "Neither in New York nor anywhere" else.

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Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Washington and Jon Gambrell in Dubai contributed to this report.

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