Trump at a pivotal crossroads on Iran

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE is at a major crossroads as he mulls a response to attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure that could include a military strike on Iran.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are supported by Tehran, took credit for Saturday’s attacks. But the Trump administration is strongly suggesting Iran is to blame, raising the specter of U.S. military action in the region.

Trump indicated Monday he hasn’t yet decided how to respond, saying only that “we’d certainly like to avoid” war.

“We have a lot of options, but I’m not looking at options right now. We want to find definitively who did this,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.

The president said it’s “certainly looking” like Iran is responsible, while also asserting that the United States knows the “exact locations” where the attacks originated.

“That was an attack on Saudi Arabia; that wasn’t an attack on us. But we would certainly help them,” Trump added.

He later told reporters on the South Lawn that any lethal U.S. military strike would be proportional to an Iranian one on an oil site.

His overall comments, coupled with remarks from the Saudi government on Monday, could pump the brakes on any immediate march toward military action. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry said it was inviting United Nations experts to investigate and would decide how to act based on those findings.

The mere discussion of military action is a dramatic and rapid reversal from the previous week, when Trump seemed to be softening his Iran policy and suggested a possible meeting with Iranian leadership.

That all changed on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia’s Khurais oil field and Abqaiq oil processing plant were set ablaze in attacks that shut off half of the country’s oil exports, or 5 percent of the world’s supply, causing oil prices to spike.

The Houthis, whom Saudi Arabia is fighting in neighboring Yemen’s civil war, said they carried out the latest attack using 10 drones.

The Houthis have struck Saudi oil fields in the past, and threatened more attacks Monday, but Saturday’s attack was far more sophisticated than previous ones.

The Trump administration quickly blamed Iran for the strikes, with Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoOvernight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit King of Jordan becomes first Arab leader to speak with President-elect Biden Central Asia is changing: the Biden administration should pay close attention MORE tweeting Saturday that “amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply.”

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft reiterated that position Monday at a Security Council meeting on Yemen, adding that “emerging information indicates that responsibility lies with Iran.”

The president’s national security team briefed him Monday on the situation, Defense Secretary Mark EsperMark EsperTrump administration pulls out of Open Skies treaty with Russia The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans President is wild card as shutdown fears grow MORE tweeted.Esper also said he spoke over the weekend with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Iraqi Defense Minister Najah al-Shammari.

“The United States military, with our interagency team, is working with our partners to address this unprecedented attack and defend the international rules-based order that is being undermined by Iran,” Esper said.

Administration officials have pointed to satellite imagery they say shows all the damage is on the northwest side of the sites, suggesting the strikes originated in Iraq or Iran rather than Yemen. They have not explained why drones couldn’t have circled around to strike from a different angle, but several reports citing unnamed officials say the attacks used both drones and cruise missiles.

The Iraqi prime minister’s office said in a statement Monday that Pompeo assured Baghdad the United States has information confirming Iraqi territory was not used to launch the strike.

The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, told the Security Council on Monday that “it is not entirely clear who was behind the attack.” He added the situation is “frankly terrifying” because the incident “makes the chances of a regional conflict that much higher.”

Iran has denied being behind the attack, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani saying Monday that the attacks were a “reciprocal response” by the “Yemeni people” after “aggression against Yemen for years.”

The Saudi-led coalition in Yemen said Monday that initial evidence shows the weapons used in the attack were Iranian and that the attack was not launched from Yemen, with the Saudi Foreign Ministry adding later that the origin is unknown.

In the days since the attack, Trump ratcheted back up his rhetoric against Iran.

On Sunday, Trump vowed that the United States is “locked and loaded” and was just awaiting confirmation from Saudi Arabia on who carried out the attack.

The following day he referenced Iran shooting down a U.S. drone in June — an incident that led Trump to nearly launch a military strike against Tehran.

“Remember when Iran shot down a drone, saying knowingly that it was in their ‘airspace’ when, in fact, it was nowhere close,” Trump tweeted Monday. “They stuck strongly to that story knowing that it was a very big lie. Now they say that they had nothing to do with the attack on Saudi Arabia. We’ll see?”

Less than a week ago, Trump seemed to be searching for a diplomatic off-ramp to tensions with Iran.

The ouster of Iran hawk John BoltonJohn BoltonPressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday Bolton calls on GOP leadership to label Trump's behavior 'inexcusable' MORE as national security adviser last week led many in Washington to believe Trump would soften his Iran policy.

Both Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Pence, Biden wage tug of war over pandemic plans MORE said last week Trump was prepared to meet with Iran with no preconditions, raising expectations he would sit down with Rouhani at the upcoming U.N. General Assembly in New York .

Now, the odds of a meeting appear slim.

Over the weekend, Trump denied he is willing to meet with Iran with no conditions, despite Pompeo and Mnuchin’s comments, as well as his June and July comments that he was willing to do so.

And on Monday, Iran shut the door on a meeting, with a Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that “such a meeting will not take place.”

Some of Trump’s allies in Congress are encouraging retaliation against Iran for the Saudi oil attacks.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamFeinstein to step down as top Democrat on Judiciary Committee Democrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Media and Hollywood should stop their marching-to-Georgia talk MORE (R-S.C.) tweeted Saturday that “it is now time for the U.S. to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries.”

Even some Democrats have said the attack could warrant a military response.

“Iran is one of the most dangerous state sponsors of terrorism. This may well be the thing that calls for military action against Iran, if that’s what the intelligence supports,” Sen. Christopher CoonsChris Andrew CoonsDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Biden rolls out national security team Democrats brush off calls for Biden to play hardball on Cabinet picks MORE (D-Del.) said Monday on Fox News.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJim Elroy RischGOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Risch wins reelection in Idaho MORE (R-Idaho) warned Iran on Monday that it “should not underestimate the United States’ resolve,” but indicated the threshold for retaliation should be an attack on U.S. forces.

“Any attack against U.S. forces deployed abroad must be met with an overwhelming response — no targets are off the table,” Risch said in a statement.

Other lawmakers are warning Trump he must seek congressional approval before acting.

“Iran’s behavior in the region is highly problematic on many levels, but Saudi Arabia’s oil interests do not determine whether the United States goes to war — the U.S. Congress does,” Sen. Tom UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallFive House Democrats who could join Biden Cabinet Overnight Energy: Biden names John Kerry as 'climate czar' | GM reverses on Trump, exits suit challenging California's tougher emissions standards | United Nations agency says greenhouse gas emissions accumulating despite lockdown decline GSA transition delay 'poses serious risk' to Native Americans, Udall says MORE (D-N.M.) said in a statement Monday. “Rather than threats of war, the right move is active diplomacy to lower tensions in the region.”

Udall was the lead Senate sponsor of an amendment to the annual defense policy bill meant to block Trump from taking military action against Iran. The amendment did not make it into the Senate version of the bill, but it did pass the House. Bicameral negotiations to reconcile the two versions are expected to officially start this week.

“Congress needs a full intelligence briefing on this latest incident as quickly as possible,” Udall added. “And we must insist that the final National Defense Authorization Act — which is being negotiated right now — include my bipartisan amendment to prevent an unconstitutional war with Iran. Congress needs to act before President Trump launches us into an unauthorized, misguided military conflict in the Middle East to make up for his diplomatic failures.”