The Pentagon is set to present a wide range of military options to President Donald Trump as he considers how to respond to an attack on Saudi Arabia’s oil industry that many in the administration have blamed on Iran.
The military on September 20 will present Trump with a list of potential air-strike targets inside Iran, among other possible responses, U.S. officials familiar with the matter told AP on the condition of anonymity.
The officials said the Pentagon will also caution Trump that military action against Iran could escalate into full armed conflict.
Tensions in the region have soared to new heights following the September 14 attack on the world's biggest crude-oil-processing plant in Saudi Arabia.
Any decision on retaliation against Iran may depend on what kind of evidence the U.S. and Saudi investigators are able to provide to back claims that the September 14 cruise-missile and drone strike was launched by Iran.
Several administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have asserted that Tehran was behind the attack.
Iran has denied involvement and warned the United States that any attack would lead to an "all-out war" with Tehran.
Despite the claims by Pompeo, the secretary has stated that the United States "would like a peaceful resolution" to the crisis sparked by the attack.
After meeting with allies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.), Pompeo said on September 19 that there was an "enormous consensus in the region" that Iran carried out the attack despite its denials.
Pompeo said Washington was involved in talks to build a coalition to deter Iranian threats.
"We are here to build out a coalition aimed at achieving peace and a peaceful resolution. That's my mission, that's what President Trump certainly wants me to work to achieve and I hope that the Islamic Republic of Iran sees it that way," Pompeo told reporters.
He did not provide details about the coalition, but Washington has been looking to establish a maritime security alliance since earlier attacks on oil tankers in Persian Gulf waters, which the United States also blamed on Iran.
Iran's foreign minister on September 20 questioned Pompeo's statement. Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a statement on Twitter, "Coalition for Peaceful Resolution?"
Zarif then listed eight diplomatic initiatives by Iran since 1985, including a peace plan for Yemen in 2015, and a regional nonaggression pact for the Persian Gulf region proposed earlier this year.
The U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Britain, and Bahrain have said they will participate in the maritime alliance. However, most European allies have been reluctant to join for fear of stoking regional tensions.
Meanwhile, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said on September 20 that Iran would respond from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean against U.S. "plots."
"If the Americans think of any plots, the Iranian nation will respond from the Mediterranean, to the Red Sea and to the Indian Ocean," General Yahya Rahim-Safavi, a senior adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted by state news agency IRNA as saying.
Yemen's Iran-backed Huthi rebels had earlier said they were behind the attack.
But Washington and Riyadh have blamed Tehran. Saudi Arabia, which is leading a coalition of Arab states fighting against the Huthis, on September 18 put on display drone and missile fragments that it said were used in the attack.
Vice President Mike Pence said Trump will "review the facts, and he'll make a decision about next steps. But the American people can be confident that the United States of America is going to defend our interest in the region, and we're going to stand with our allies."
Officials inside and outside the U.S. administration have said the response could involve military, political, and economic actions, and that military options range from no action to air strikes or moves such as cyberattacks.
Washington could also provide additional military support to help Saudi Arabia defend itself from attacks from the north. Most of Riyadh's defense efforts have focused on threats from Huthis in Yemen in the south of the peninsula.