Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday there was no proof Iran carried out the missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities last month, and the United States had yet to present evidence proving the Islamic Republic was behind the strikes that rattled global energy markets.
“We condemn this [attack], but we are against shifting the blame on Iran, as there is no evidence for that,” Putin said at a Moscow energy conference, according to the Sputnik news agency.
The Russian leader said he recently spoke to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who assured him Tehran was not involved in the September 14 assault that halved the kingdom’s oil production.
Iran has denied responsibility and the Houthi rebels it backs in Yemen said they were behind the attack.
But Riyadh’s ally Washington and European powers have blamed the drone and cruise missile strike on Tehran.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a decades-long struggle for regional dominance and back opposing sides in a bitter war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.
The attack on oil facilities rattled global energy markets and heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington. US-Iranian relations have deteriorated since US President Donald Trump last year pulled America out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and re-imposed sanctions that sent the country’s economy into freefall.
The European signatories to the deal have repeatedly said they are committed to saving the deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, but their efforts have so far borne little fruit.
In his remarks Wednesday, Putin denounced the US for re-imposing sanctions on Tehran, saying the measures were damaging to the global energy markets and were preventing Iran from resuming nuclear negotiations.
“Iran believes that it does not have equal conditions for this dialogue under sanction pressure,” he said, according to Sputnik. “But it seems to me that Iran certainly has a desire to normalize the situation, including normalizing relations with the United States.”
There was widespread speculation that Trump and Rouhani would meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly last week in what would have signaled a major ease in tensions, but the diplomatic breakthrough never happened.
According to reports in US news outlets, French President Emanuel Macron was close to brokering face-to-face talks between the two leaders, but the effort fell apart after Trump openly threatened to impose more sanctions, causing Rouhani to back out at the last minute.
A report in Politico on Tuesday said that Trump and Rouhani agreed to a four-point plan drafted by Macron that would have seen the two leaders meet at the UN last week to declare a resumption of negotiations and rolled-back sanctions.
On Wednesday, Rouhani told members of his cabinet that he supported “the general framework” of renewed nuclear talks with the signatories of the 2015 deal, but Trump was scuppering the European-led effort.
Rouhani said the European plan included preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, securing its support for regional peace, lifting US sanctions and the immediate resumption of Iranian oil exports.
He said the proposal could have been discussed during the UN gathering in New York last week, but that Trump sank the chances by vowing in his speech to the assembly that not only would sanctions remain in place but “they will be tightened.”