Saudi Arabia drone attacks - Johnson refuses to rule out military action

23 September 2019, 05:22 | Updated: 23 September 2019, 09:12

Britain has formally identified Iran as being behind drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabian oil fields, raising the chance of the UK joining military efforts in the Middle East.

Boris Johnson says the UK government is attributing responsibility to the regime in Tehran "with a very high degree of probability".

Flying to New York for the UN General Assembly, the prime minister said he wanted to "de-escalate tensions" but refused to rule out taking part in any coordinated military action if Britain is asked to do so.

The UK has followed the United States and Saudi Arabia in pointing the finger of blame at Iran, rather than accepting the claims of responsibility by Houthi rebels for the attacks a week ago - the Iranians have denied any involvement.

Drone and cruise missile strikes crippled the Khurais oil field and Abqaiq oil processing facility in eastern Saudi Arabia, a key part of the country's oil production infrastructure.

Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, has called the attacks an "act of war".

Mr Johnson has made it clear that he was prepared to consider all requests for assistance as he prepares to meet both President Donald Trump and President Hassan Rouhani of Iran in the sidelines of the UN meeting.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Johnson said: "Everyone wants to do what they can to bring the world together in response to what happened in Saudi Arabia in our management of Iran.

"The UK is attributing responsibility with a very high degree of probability to Iran for the Aramco attacks. We think it is very likely that Iran was indeed responsible. Using both UAVs, both drones and cruise missiles. The difficulty is how do we organise a global response - what is the way forward?

"We will be working with our American friends and our European friends to construct a response that tries to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf region."

Britain is understood to have concluded that the Houthis claim it is responsible is implausible, based on imagery which sources said show remnants of Iranian-made missiles that have a range and sophistication inconsistent with the Houthis.

This level of sophistication, Britain believes, points to Iranian involvement which the British government has conclude is implausible without authorisation by the Iranian government

Asked whether he would rule out military action and stick with the Iran nuclear deal, Mr Johnson replied: "Well - on what kind of action we could take, you'll have seen the Americans are proposing to do more to help to defend Saudi Arabia.

"We will be following that closely and clearly if we are asked by the Americans or Saudis to have a role, we will consider in what way we can be useful."

Pressed on whether this could mean Britain taking part in military action, he replied: "We will consider all (options) if asked and depending on what exact plan."

Mr Johnson said he would be raising the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British Iranian jailed national when he meets with President Rouhani.

"On Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other very sad dual national consular cases held in Tehran, as you can imagine in the course of my talks with President Rouhani which I will also be having - in my talks with President Rouhani I will not only be discussing Iran's actions in the region but the need to release not just Nazanin but others, and I will argue they are being illegally held."