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Trump may meet Iran leader Rouhani in spite of Saudi attacks: White House counselor

US Representative Adam Schiff says he thinks Trump should engage in diplomacy with Iran because 'it's the only way out of the situation'
White House advisor Kellyanne Conway does not rule out possibility of a Trump-Rouhani meeting (AFP/File photo)

The White House said on Sunday that President Donald Trump may still meet his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, despite the US accusing Iran of masterminding drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

White House advisor Kellyanne Conway did not rule out the possibility in a television interview broadcast, as Saudi Arabia raced to restart operations at oil plants hit by drone attacks that slashed its production by half, AFP reported.

Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in neighbouring Yemen claimed Saturday's strikes on two plants owned by state giant Aramco. But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Iran, saying there was no evidence the "unprecedented attack on the world's energy supply" was launched from Yemen. Iran has denied any involvement.

Conway told “Fox News Sunday" that Trump would "consider" following up on his suggestion of a meeting at the forthcoming UN General Assembly session in New York, adding that "the conditions must always be right for this president to make a deal or take a meeting."

"I'll allow the president to announce a meeting or a non-meeting," Conway said, according to Reuters.

Arch-foes Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May last year when Trump withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal and began re-imposing punitive measures.

Iran responded by scaling back its commitments to the multi-nation accord, which gave it the promise of sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Analysts see hope for more compromise following the exit of Trump's hardline former national security advisor John Bolton, the architect of a "maximum pressure" strategy to bring Iran into line.

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US Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he had not yet been briefed on whether the Saudi attack was directly attributable to Iran.

Still, he told CBS's "Face the Nation" programme that, "I think it's safe to say that the Houthis don't have the capability to do a strike like this without Iranian assistance."

Schiff said he thought Trump should engage in diplomacy with Iran because "it's the only way out of the situation" that has developed since the Republican president pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal last year.

On Saturday, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, advocated a different approach. He said it was time for the US "to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries".

Saturday's explosions set off fires that engulfed the Abqaiq plant, the world's largest oil-processing facility, and nearby Khurais, which hosts a massive oil field.

Conway said Trump's trade war with China, which has increased uncertainty and undermined the global economy, proved the benefits of having a businessman in the White House who was a patient dealmaker.

"He also knows that you don't sit down and meet with people unless you have all these other accoutrements around the relationship," Conway told Fox, "like the maximum pressure campaign, like pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal, like the secretary of treasury and secretary of state just days ago from the White House announcing new sanctions."

The Trump administration's sanctions and "maximum pressure" campaign on Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programme will continue whether or not the two leaders meet, she added.