Iran says Saudi, not Tehran, destabilizing Middle East

Iran openly backs Assad and is also accused of supporting Houthis who overran large parts of Yemen last year

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Saudi Arabia, not Iran, is destabilizing the Middle East, an official in Tehran said Tuesday, rejecting claims from Riyadh that Iran is acting like a “colonizing state.”

The comments from foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham come after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir on Monday accused Iran of “meddling in the affairs” of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Relations between Iran, the region’s dominant Shiite Muslim power, and Saudi Arabia, its Sunni rival, have been fraught since an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad broke out in 2011.

Iran openly backs Assad and is also accused of supporting Shiite Houthi militia group who overran large parts of Yemen last year and early this year.

Relations soured further after Saudi Arabia’s decision to launch an air campaign in Yemen.

The deaths of at least 464 Iranian pilgrims in the recent hajj stampede in Mina and further Iranian military activity in Syria saw ties plunge again, with increasingly abrasive statements from both sides.

Afkham described Jubeir’s remarks -- he had said the kingdom would use all its “political, economic and military powers” to defend itself -- were “despicable, arrogant and non-diplomatic.”

“This destructive and non-constructive approach leads nowhere,” Afkham said of Jubeir, who had demanded that Iran pull fighters out of Syria, stop supplying arms to Assad and cease to act like a “colonizing state” there.

Afkham responded: “The Saudi foreign minister, whose country has a military and extremist approach to crises... and bombed continuously for seven months in Yemen, is not qualified to talk about the role of Iran in the region.”

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