WASHINGTON: The United States believes the attacks that crippled Saudi Arabian oil facilities last weekend originated in southwestern Iran, a US official told Reuters, an assessment that further increases tension in the Middle East.
Three officials, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the attacks involved cruise missiles and drones, indicating that they involved a higher degree of complexity and sophistication than initially thought.
The officials did not provide evidence or explain what US intelligence they were using for the evaluations. Such intelligence, if shared publicly, could further pressure Washington, Riyadh and others to respond, perhaps militarily.
Saudi state television said the Saudi Defence Ministry will hold a media conference on Wednesday that will show evidence of Iran's involvement in the Aramco attacks, including the use of Iranian weapons.
Iran denies involvement in the strikes. Iran's allies in Yemen's civil war, the Houthi movement, claimed responsibility, saying they struck the plants with drones including some powered by jet engines.
US President Donald Trump on Monday said it looked as if Iran - which has a long history of friction with neighbor Saudi Arabia - was behind the attacks.
But in a sign that US allies remain unconvinced, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was unsure if anyone had any evidence to say whether drones "came from one place or another."
French President Emmanuel Macron telephoned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Tuesday to discuss the attacks, Saudi state news agency SPA reported. Macron said France was willing to help international investigators, it added.
Saudi Arabia sought to reassure markets after the attack on Saturday halved oil output, saying on Tuesday that full production would be restored by month's end.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out talks with the United States unless the Trump administration returns to the nuclear accord between Iran and the West that the United States abandoned last year.
"Iranian officials, at any level, will never talk to American officials ... this is part of their policy to put pressure on Iran," Iranian state TV quoted him as saying.
Trump on Tuesday said he is not looking to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a UN event in New York this month.
US-Iran relations deteriorated after Trump quit the nuclear pact and reimposed sanctions over Tehran's nuclear and ballistic programmes, severely hurting the Iranian economy.
Trump also wants Iran to stop supporting regional proxies, including Yemen's Houthis.
Iran's clerical rulers openly support the Houthis, who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, but Tehran denies that it actively supports the Yemeni group with military and financial support.
Despite years of air strikes against them, the Houthi militia boasts drones and missiles able to reach deep into Saudi Arabia, the result of an armament campaign pursued and expanded energetically since Yemen's war began four years ago.
Another senior Trump administration official said the Houthi claim to have used 10 drones in the attacks was undercut by the fact that Abqaiq was struck at least 17 times. The second location, he added, was hit at least twice by precision-guided munitions.
"The Houthi claim does not stand up to scrutiny," the US official said on Tuesday, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity. The Houthis had never used the type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, that was employed in the attacks, the official added.
Strains between Washington and Tehran have risen more in recent months after attacks on tankers in the Gulf that the United States blames on Tehran, and Iran's downing of a US military drone that prompted preparations for a retaliatory air strike that Trump says he called off at the last minute.
Saudi Arabia has asked international experts to join its investigation, which indicates the attacks did not come from Yemen, the Saudi foreign ministry said.
One of the three US officials expressed confidence that Saudi Arabia's collection of materials following the attacks would yield "compelling forensic evidence ... that will point to where this attack came from." A US team is helping Saudi Arabia evaluate evidence from the attacks, which hit crucial facilities of Saudi state-owned oil company Aramco in Abqaiq and Khurais and initially cut Saudi oil production in half.
A day after warning the United States was "locked and loaded" to respond to the Saudi incident, Trump dialed down his rhetoric, saying on Monday there was "no rush" to retaliate and Washington was coordinating with Gulf Arab and European states.
"I'm not looking at options right now. We want to find definitively who did this," Trump said.
US officials say Trump wants to ensure the culprit is positively identified in a way that will pass muster not only with him but with the American people.