Saudis tell US Iran could attack kingdom

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Saudi Arabia has shared information with American officials that suggests Iran may be preparing for an impending attack on the kingdom, three US officials said Tuesday.

Heightened concerns about a possible attack on Saudi Arabia come as the Biden government has criticized Tehran for its crackdown on widespread protests and condemned it for sending hundreds of drones — as well as technical support — to Russia for use in its war in the U.S to have sent to Ukraine.

“We are concerned about the threat picture and remain in constant contact with the Saudis through military and intelligence channels,” the National Security Council said in a statement. “We will not hesitate to defend our interests and partners in the region.”

Saudi Arabia did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Neither does Iran’s mission to the United Nations.

One of the officials who confirmed the information exchange described it as a credible threat of an attack “soon or within 48 hours.” No US embassy or consulate in the region has issued warnings or instructions to Americans in Saudi Arabia or elsewhere in the Middle East based on the intelligence information. The officers were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Asked for reports on the intelligence information shared by the Saudis, Brig. Gen. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said US military were “concerned about the threat landscape in the region.”

“We are in regular contact with our Saudi partners regarding the information they have to provide on this front,” Ryder said. “But what we have said before, and I repeat it, is that we reserve the right to protect and defend ourselves wherever our forces serve, whether in Iraq or elsewhere.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said America was “concerned about the threat picture,” without elaborating.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Tuesday on the Saudis’ intelligence sharing. Iran has claimed, without providing evidence, that Saudi Arabia and other rivals are fomenting dissent on its streets through ordinary Iranians.

Of particular anger is the protest coverage of Iran International, a London-based Farsi-language satellite news channel once majority-owned by a Saudi national.

The US and Saudis accused Iran in 2019 of being behind a major attack in eastern Saudi Arabia that halved the oil-rich kingdom’s production and sent energy prices skyrocketing. The Iranians denied they were behind the attack, but the same triangular bomb-carrying drones used in that attack are now being used by Russian forces in their war against Ukraine.

The Saudis have also been hit repeatedly in recent years by drones, rockets and mortars fired by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to fight the Houthis in 2015 and has been criticized internationally for its airstrikes during the war, which have killed scores of civilians.

In recent weeks, the Biden administration has imposed sanctions on Iranian officials over the crackdown on protesters following the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini after her arrest by Iran’s Morality Police. The government has also imposed sanctions on Iran for supplying drones to Russia for use in its war in Ukraine.

At least 288 people were killed and 14,160 arrested during the protests, according to the group Human Rights Activists in Iran. Demonstrations have continued despite the feared paramilitary Revolutionary Guard warned young Iranians to stop.

Iran has already launched a series of attacks on Kurdish separatist positions in northern Iraq amid the protests, killing at least 16 people, including an American national.

US relations with Saudi Arabia are also strained after the Riyadh-led alliance of oil-producing nations, OPEC+, announced in October that it would cut production by 2 million barrels a day from November.

The White House has said it will review its ties with the Saudis in light of the move. The government said the production cut is effectively helping another OPEC+ member, Russia, pad its coffers as it continues its war in Ukraine, now in its ninth month.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby reiterated Tuesday that the administration remains concerned that Iran could also supply Russia with surface-to-surface missiles.

“We have not seen confirmation of this concern, but it is a concern that we have,” Kirby said.

Even as the US and others raise concerns about possible Iranian action, the administration has not ruled out the possibility of a relaunch of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, brokered by the Obama administration and scrapped by the Trump administration in 2018.

US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley said Monday the government is not currently focused on the deal, which has been stalled since August.

Still, Malley refused to declare the deal dead, saying the government “makes no apologies” for “doing everything we can to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

The deal had netted Tehran billions of dollars in sanctions relief in exchange for the country agreeing to roll back its nuclear program. It sets limits on enrichment and how much material Iran can store, and limits the operation of advanced centrifuges needed for enrichment.

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Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates contributed to this report.

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