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House Armed Services panel gets classified briefing on Saudi attacks

House Armed Services panel gets classified briefing on Saudi attacks
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The House Armed Services Committee received a classified briefing Thursday afternoon about the attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities.

“The biggest thing that I’m hoping to find out is what are we planning, what are our options,” committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithNearly 5,000 National Guard troops to stay in DC over concerns of potential violence in March Langevin hopeful new Armed Services panel will shine new spotlight on cybersecurity Overnight Defense: Pentagon, Congress appoint panel members to rename Confederate bases | Military approves 20 more coronavirus vaccination teams MORE (D-Wash.) said ahead of the briefing. “I think we’ve all seen the intelligence. … The question is, where do we go from here?"

“And also I think to make sure everyone’s clear on the point that an attack on Saudi Arabia is not an attack on the United States of America, and the two should not be conflated,” he continued. “And an attack on Saudi Arabia gives no legal justification whatsoever to the president for U.S. military action.”

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The closed-door briefing was conducted by Pentagon and State Department officials, including acting assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs Katie Wheelbarger, a committee staffer told The Hill.

The attacks on two Saudi oil facilities last weekend in which Iran is suspected to be involved set off an intense debate in Washington over how to respond.

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMike PompeoChina labels human rights criticism 'groundless' Trump to attend private RNC donor retreat On China, is Biden channeling Trump or Trump's administration? They're not the same MORE has directly blamed Iran for the attacks, calling them an “act of war.” But President TrumpDonald TrumpSenators given no timeline on removal of National Guard, Capitol fence Democratic fury with GOP explodes in House Georgia secretary of state withholds support for 'reactionary' GOP voting bills MORE has not gone that far, saying only that it “looks” like Iran is to blame.

A Pentagon spokesman said Thursday the department was waiting for Saudi Arabia’s assessment before directly blaming Iran for the attack, but that “all indications are” that “Iran is in some way responsible.”

After first raising the prospect of military action by threatening that the U.S. is “locked and loaded,” Trump has said he does not want war and that he has “many options” on how to respond. He also said Wednesday he is ordering new sanctions on Iran.

Few in Congress have shown an appetite for a military strike, with many of Trump’s fellow Republicans pumping the breaks on immediate action by saying a full assessment of what happened needs to be done before deciding how to respond.

Some, including Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamPassage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is the first step to heal our democracy Progressive support builds for expanding lower courts McConnell backs Garland for attorney general MORE (R-S.C.), have advocated for a retaliatory military strike. Graham’s argument, which is that Tehran saw weakness in Trump’s decision not to strike Iran earlier this summer after it downed a U.S. drone, has led to a spat between him and his typical ally Trump.

Amid the debate over how to respond to the attacks, Congress is negotiating the final version of the annual defense policy bill, including whether to retain a House-passed amendment aimed at preventing Trump from launching a military strike against Iran. 

House and Senate negotiators held their first official meeting Thursday to reconcile the two versions of the National Defense Authorization Act. Smith said the Iran amendment came up during the conference meeting, but that no resolution was reached.