Pence says US is 'locked and loaded' to defend allies

Vice President Pence said Tuesday the United States is “locked and loaded” to defend America’s allies in response to an attack on oil sites in Saudi Arabia.  

Pence, echoing remarks made by President TrumpDonald John TrumpFlorida GOP lawmaker says he's 'thinking' about impeachment Democrats introduce 'THUG Act' to block funding for G-7 at Trump resort Kurdish group PKK pens open letter rebuking Trump's comparison to ISIS MORE the day prior, said the Trump administration doesn’t want to go to war with anyone but remains prepared to defend its allies.

“In the wake of this unprovoked attack, I promise you, we’re ready,” Pence said at the Heritage Foundation at the outset of an address focused on trade. “We’re locked and loaded and we’re ready to defend the interests of our allies. Make no mistake about it.”

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Pence also said that it “looks like” Iran was responsible for the attack on the Saudi oil facilities, but said the U.S. intelligence community was working to confirm the details.

He added Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoEx-Watergate prosecutor says evidence in impeachment inquiry 'clearly' points to Trump Pompeo rejects idea that the United States abandoned Kurds Mike Pompeo's Faustian bargain MORE would travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet with U.S. counterparts there about the attack. 

“We’re evaluating all of the evidence, we’re consulting with our allies,” Pence said, adding that Trump, who is on a campaign swing on the West Coast, would determine the best course of action.

Pence said the United States “will take whatever action is necessary” to defend U.S. allies.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s Khurais oil field and Abqaiq oil processing plant were set ablaze in attacks that shut off half of the kingdom’s oil exports, equal to approximately 5 percent of the world’s supply.

Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who are supported by Iran, took credit for the attack.

But Trump administration officials, including Pompeo, have instead blamed Iran directly. Trump himself, however, stopped short of directly attributing the attack to Iran on Monday, saying only that it’s “certainly looking” like Iran is responsible.

Trump has also said the United States would wait for Saudi Arabia to determine who was responsible.

On Monday, Saudi officials said initial evidence shows the weapons used were Iranian and that the attack was not launched from Yemen, but that its origin is still unknown. The Saudis added that they would invited U.N. experts to investigate and decide how to act based on those findings.

If Iran were responsible for the attack, Pence said, it would “just be the latest in a series of escalations instigated by the Islamic Republic.”

Pence rattled off examples of Iran’s destabilizing behavior, citing Iran’s support for Houthi rebels in Yemen and its breach of low-enriched uranium caps put in place by the 2015 nuclear deal, which Trump withdrew from last year despite objections from U.S. allies.

U.S.-Iran tensions skyrocketed this summer as Trump tightened sanctions and Iran breached key limits of the nuclear deal for the first time. In June, Trump said he came within minutes of launching a military strike on Iran in response to Iran shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone.

In the days before the attack on Saudi oil facilities, however, tensions appeared to be trending down. Administration officials had said Trump was open to a meeting with the Iranians with no preconditions, and anticipation was building for a meeting at next week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

Trump has since denied he was willing to meet with no conditions, and Iran said Monday a meeting would not happen.

Pence asserted that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran is working.

“If Iran conducted this latest attack to pressure President Trump to back off, they will fail,” Pence said.

—Rebecca Kheel contributed.