October 10, 2019 / 7:39 AM / 7 days ago

Top Saudi official holds talks with U.S. state, defence secretaries

DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s deputy defence minister said on Thursday he discussed regional security and military cooperation with senior U.S. government officials at a time of heightened tension with Iran following last month’s attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman gestures during a meeting at the Pentagon in Washington, U.S., August 29, 2019. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan

Saudi Arabia and the United States blamed common foe Tehran for the Sept. 14 assault on oil plants that initially halved the output of the world’s top exporter, a charge Iran denies.

The kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman last month said Riyadh prefers a political solution to a military one, but warned that oil prices could spike to “unimaginably high numbers” if the world does not deter Iran.

Vice Minister of Defence Prince Khalid bin Salman, a brother of Prince Mohammed, said in Twitter posts that he met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Saudi Arabia and the United States “stand side by side in bolstering regional and international security and stability”, Prince Khalid said of his talks with Pompeo.

He and Esper discussed mutual security challenges and reaffirmed “strong military cooperation in countering terrorism and preserving peace and stability”, the prince said.

Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and its regional rival Shi’ite Muslim Iran are locked in several proxy wars in the Middle East including in Yemen and Syria.

The Twitter posts made no mention of them discussing Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies launching attacks on Kurdish militia in northeast Syria on Wednesday.

Tensions in the Gulf region have risen since attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz in May and June and more limited strikes on Saudi energy assets in recent months that Riyadh has also blamed on Iran. Tehran denies any involvement.

Saudi Arabia has supported Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran after President Donald Trump last year quit an international nuclear pact and re-imposed sanctions, saying the deal was flawed as it does not curb Iran’s ballistic missile programme or its support for regional proxies.

Reporting by Samar Hassan in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alison Williams

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