Oil

Iran is 'almost daring Donald Trump to respond,' says former diplomat

Key Points
  • President Donald Trump doesn't want war with Iran — but Tehran seems inclined to "test the Trump administration," according to Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen.
  • Ultimately, the United States is still looking for "ways to get the Iranians back to the negotiating table," and Trump understands the American people don't want a military conflict, said Feierstein.
  • "Clearly, the Iranians look inclined to test the Trump administration, to call Donald Trump's bluff," he said.
U.S. President Donald Trump standing next to Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, during a group picture at the start of the Group of 20 summit on 28 June 2019.
Bernd von Jutrczenka | picture alliance | Getty Images

President Donald Trump doesn't want war with Iran — but Tehran seems inclined to "test the Trump administration," according to Gerald Feierstein, a former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen.

Ultimately, the United States is still looking for "ways to get the Iranians back to the negotiating table," and Trump understands the American people don't want a military conflict, said Feierstein, who is currently senior vice president at the Washington-based Middle East Institute.

Multiple drone attacks on Saturday crippled Saudi oil production, and knocked out 5.7 million barrels of daily crude oil production — that's half of Saudi Arabia's production and more than 5% of the world's daily crude production.

Clearly, the Iranians look inclined to test the Trump administration, to call Donald Trump's bluff...
Gerald Feierstein
former U.S. Ambassador to Yemen

The attacks on the oil plants of state-owned Saudi Aramco — on the world's largest crude processing facility in Abqaiq, and the kingdom's second-largest oilfield in Khurais — caused global oil prices to surge amid fears of supply disruption.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to meet Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to talk about the attacks.

Iran fights back

Pompeo has blamed Iran for the attacks but Tehran refuted those allegations. On Tuesday, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei announced on state TV that the Iranian government "will never talk to America."

"Clearly, the Iranians look inclined to test the Trump administration, to call Donald Trump's bluff, if you will, to see if he really has the will to really go all the way," Feierstein told CNBC on Wednesday. "So far, their bets have paid off."

Yemen's Houthi rebels, backed by Iran, have been behind a series of attacks on Saudi pipelines, tankers and other infrastructure in the past few years amid rising tension between Iran and the U.S., and its allies like Saudi Arabia.

VIDEO3:5403:54
Saudi oil minister says all capacity will be restored by end of September

The Islamic Republic, a target of U.S. sanctions for decades, has been blamed for recent attacks on oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz. Washington has also blamed Tehran for the downing of a U.S. military drone.

"Whether you're talking about the tanker attacks or previous pipeline attacks or now this, they continue to raise the ante, they raise the bar, almost daring Donald Trump to respond," Feierstein added.

Still, Feierstein said, "the Trump administration would not want to do things that would take the opportunity or the possibility of a negotiation away completely."

Saudi Arabia would not want to be drawn into a war either, said Feierstein.

The reason the Saudi government has been reluctant to point fingers at Iran is because it "will be very difficult to walk away from ... possible retaliation" if they do, he added.

— CNBC's Natasha Turak and Yun Li contributed to this report.