Riyadh and Baghdad, Asharq Al-Awsat—Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir on Monday criticized recent “aggressive statements” made by Iranian officials towards other countries in the region, following Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers on July 14.
Jubeir, who was meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Riyadh, said, “we reject their comments and reject the hostility they show towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the countries of the region.”
“These statements are escalating and they are many,” he added.
Several Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, have made comments aimed at other regional countries since the nuclear deal, many of which have focused specifically on Saudi Arabia.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian recently said some “extreme” voices within the Saudi administration were “pushing the region towards conflict and shaking its security and stability.” He also criticized what he said was the Kingdom’s “negative” role in countries such as Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.
Jubeir said the comments did not “represent the desire of a state for good neighborly relations but that of a state which has aspirations in the region and which carried out hostile acts like this”—referring to a suspected plot by Iran to smuggle arms and explosives into Bahrain.
Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said on Saturday it had arrested two men in relation to the plot and recovered several weapons, ammunition, and explosives. It said both men had admitted to receiving the shipment from Iranian handlers and at least one of them had been trained at an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps camp in Iran.
During an official visit to Kuwait on Sunday, Zarif said the allegations that Iran was involved in the plot were “baseless” and, in apparent reference to Saudi Arabia, said “some countries . . . want conflict and war in this region,” according to AFP.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmed Bin Khalid Al Khalifa responded on Twitter by saying: “Iran’s foreign minister says allegations of smuggling arms into Bahrain are false. I advise him to come [to Bahrain] so we can show him what the Revolutionary Guard has been hiding from him.”
Saudi Arabia and other countries in the region fear the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers will embolden Tehran to continue supporting regional proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.
Iran has also been involved in Iraq as part of the country’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), supporting volunteer Shi’ite militias accused by Human Rights Watch and other international groups of carrying out human rights abuses against Sunni civilians. The Quds Force, an elite paramilitary unit of the Revolutionary Guard, has also been involved in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.
In addition to praising Saudi Arabia’s role in the region, Mogherini said on Monday that with respect to Iran the “trust is not there yet” and that EU leaders would be watching Tehran’s behavior closely in the coming period in order to ensure it was not reneging on the terms of the nuclear agreement.
“We [the EU] understand the concerns very well,” she said in reference to some of the regional reservations regarding the deal.
Zarif in Baghdad
Jubeir also criticized comments by Iraq’s former prime minister and current Vice President Nuri Al-Maliki, who recently said that Saudi Arabia was a “sponsor and supporter of terrorism” and called for the Kingdom to be placed under the “trusteeship” of the international community.
Jubeir said Maliki’s tenure as prime minister between 2006–2014 and his sectarian policies marginalizing Sunnis in the country had helped pave the way for the rise of ISIS in Iraq.
Meanwhile, on Monday Zarif visited the Iraqi capital Baghdad as part of a tour of regional countries which also includes Kuwait and Qatar.
During a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, Zarif said: “Iran is sending a message of peace to all the countries of the region after its recent nuclear deal with the West,” and added that those countries “should not be afraid of the deal.”
He said he was in Iraq to “reiterate that Iran stands by the Iraqi government and people in their fight against terrorism.”
Jaafari said Iraq welcomed the nuclear deal and added that Iran “has proven through the wisdom of its leaders that it is capable of overcoming a crisis that perhaps was difficult but clearly not impossible to surpass.”
Zarif arrived in Iraq on Sunday and visited the Shi’ite holy city of Najaf where he met with Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani. Following the meeting, Zarif held a press conference and said Iran supported Sistani’s role in Iraq and that the Ayatollah had stressed during their meeting the “importance of working together [with Tehran] to ensure the peace and stability of the region and the world.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on Monday, Salah Al-Arabawi, a senior member of the Shi’ite-dominated Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI) party, said: “Zarif’s visit to Iraq at this particular time, and particularly after the signing of the nuclear deal, is extremely important, especially given the good relations which Iraq has with Iran,” adding that Iraq’s government and politicians had “strongly supported the nuclear deal with Western powers.”
“There is much that unites us with Iran, most importantly on the political, cultural, and economic fronts. This calls for a continuation in dialogue between the two countries, given also that we see the relationship has more positives [than negatives], in addition to the fact that the relationship will reflect positively on the region and the fight against ISIS’s gangs,” he said.
Hamza Mustafa contributed additional reporting from Baghdad.