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Impact Of Drone Attack On Saudi Oil Facility Is Huge, Ross Says


President Trump says the United States is quote, "locked and loaded." What he means by that is one of the many questions after an attack over the weekend on Saudi Arabia's oil reserves. Drones struck a major Saudi oil facility, knocking out more than half the Saudi oil supply and sending global oil prices surging. Yemeni rebels claimed responsibility for this, but the Trump administration is blaming Iran. And the president, as we mentioned, is threatening some kind of action.

Ambassador Dennis Ross is a veteran diplomat who served both Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and joins us this morning. Ambassador, welcome to the program.

DENNIS ROSS: Nice to be with you. Thank you.

GREENE: I want to start with the world's oil supplies. I mean, as I mentioned, prices are spiking. What is the impact here?

ROSS: Well, the impact is huge because the - one of the facilities that was hit is responsible for about 5.7 million barrels a day in terms of the oil processing that it does. The Saudis' production at its height is - was a little bit over 11 million barrels a day. So 5.7 is more than half, and right now they're producing about 9.8 million barrels a day. So you're talking about 60% of what the Saudis provide suddenly being put at risk and for an extended period of time. The estimates I've seen is up to six months.

GREENE: Well, as for who is responsible for this, President Trump is, as I said, blaming Iran. What evidence is there for that?

ROSS: I think the main evidence, aside from the fact that the Houthis are claiming responsibility and the drones that they have come entirely from the Iranians - I think the main evidence is that the Iranians have adopted a policy of what I call maximum pressure on America's friends and interests in the region in response to what the Trump administration's posture has been of maximum pressure on them, No. 1.

No. 2, Iranians, for a long time, have said if they can't export their oil, others are going to have a hard time exporting their oil. And even though they don't claim directly they do things like this and they deny it, the fact is, if you look at their behavior since May, we've seen an upsurge in attacks by the Houthis into Saudi Arabia. This is quite remarkable if, in fact, their drones did it because this is close to 500 miles away from Yemen.

But also, we saw the attacks on the oil tankers - again, that they denied. But it was pretty clear that the limpet mines that were attached to the hulls of these tankers - the only ones who have the capability to do this is the Iranians. So there's a pattern of Iranian behavior, at least through proxies, where they are - they have been attacking America's friends and interests in the region. At this point, they've found there's been little price that's been imposed on them other than the ongoing economic sanctions that the United States has in fact imposed.

GREENE: Well, then do you think it is important for President Trump to do what he's doing? Sending a message such as that the United States is locked and loaded in terms of, you know - if not some sort of military message, of course, we're not going to even suggest that that's in the planning because we have no idea - but at least threatening something, you know, to try and change Iran's pattern of behavior.

ROSS: Well, I think there have to be threats that are believable. And you know, the fact is that - you go back and John Bolton said that if they were the kinds of threats that we've seen to America's friends and interests in the region when he announced we were sending a carrier task force to the region back in May, it was the day after that, that the Saudis began - I'm sorry - that the Iranians began these indirect attacks on the tankers. So...

GREENE: This is the president's national security adviser who just left, we should say.

ROSS: Right. He said relentless force would be used - obviously, it wasn't. So the point here is, don't make military threats that you're not going to carry out. But also, if you're going to make military threats, you ought to think about what the second-, third- and fourth-order consequences are going to be. What happens after you do it? How do they respond? Where are you headed?

I think the key thing right now is to expose the Iranians - get others to expose the Iranians because that will put the Iranians on notice that the threats that they don't consider to be credible right now might well become credible. And they don't want - the reason they do things through indirection and deny it is because, in fact, they don't want direct conflict.

Right now the point is that we have lost our deterrence towards them. One way to start getting it is to basically go to the Europeans and say, if nothing is done right now, at least through political isolation, if you don't threaten to also join the sanctions, the fact of the matter is going to be that war, whether we like it or not, is - will become inevitable.

GREENE: Does President Trump have a kind of relationship with European leaders right now where he could do that - go to them and say I need your help here, let's come up with a coordinated strategy?

ROSS: He does not. But the - their fear that this could actually set in motion a train of events that will produce a war could be enough to motivate them to adopt more of a position or at least threaten the Iranians that they will if, in fact, nothing is done.

GREENE: Ambassador Dennis Ross, he's now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He also has a new book out. It's "Be Strong And Of Good Courage."

Ambassador, always appreciate your time. Thank you.

ROSS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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