4 Jan 2016

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of stoking regional tensions

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of using an attack on its embassy in Tehran as an excuse to inflame tensions between the two Middle East rivals.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said: “Unfortunately the government of Saudi Arabia sees its existence and interests in creating clashes and escalating tensions in the region. In recent years it has taken measures and followed policies in line with that, and all those policies have resulted in increased conflicts and clashes in the region.”

Saudi Arabia has severed diplomatic relations with Iran and given its diplomats two days to leave the country after the embassy was attacked by demonstrators protesting about the execution of senior Shia Muslim cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday.

On Monday, Saudi ally Bahrain said it would also cut ties with Iran, while the United Arab Emirates said it would reduce the number of Iranian diplomats allowed in the country.

Sheikh al-Nimr was one of 47 people who were executed after being convicted of terror-related offences.

Most of these people were Sunni Muslims, but it was the execution of the Shia cleric, a critic of Saudi Arabia’s ruling royal family, that has enraged Iran.

Key powers

Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are the key powers in the Middle East and are on opposite sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.

Relations between them affect what goes on in other countries in the region, illustrated today by bombings at two Sunni mosques in Hilla, Iraq.

Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of backing Islamist terrorism, while Riyadh says Tehran interferes in Arab issues.

‘Pushed around’

Former diplomat Sir John Jenkins, who was UK ambassador in Saudi Arabia until the end of 2015, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that the executions had to be seen in the context of the two countries’ rivalry.

He said: “I think the Saudis are sending a message to two audiences. One is external, particularly Iran but also the US, and the other is internal, for Saudi domestic opinion. Essentially, the message for both was that the Saudis will not be pushed around by anyone.

“For Iran, (the message was that) we reject Iranian interference in our affairs and we will stand up against anybody who we think is an Iranian agent of influence inside the country, who has called for the dissolution of the kingdom.”