Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of stoking regional tension


Tehran (AFP)

Iran's foreign ministry accused Saudi Arabia of stoking regional tension Monday after the kingdom broke off diplomatic relations and said Iranian embassy staff must leave.

"Saudi Arabia sees not only its interests but also its existence in pursuing crises and confrontations and attempts to resolve its internal problems by exporting them to the outside," said ministry spokesman Hossein Jaber Ansari.

Saudi Arabia announced its measures after its embassy in Tehran was firebombed and its interior destroyed by a mob who attacked the building in protest at the kingdom's execution of a Shiite cleric.

The violence was condemned on Sunday by Iran's president.

Ansari said that by severing diplomatic relations, Saudi Arabia was "continuing the policy of increasing tension and clashes in the region".

"What happened in regard to diplomatic missions, it is not the first time such a thing happens worldwide," he added.

His remarks came the morning after Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced diplomatic ties had been cut, giving the Iranian diplomats 48 hours notice to depart.

Jubeir did so after the two countries clashed over Saudi Arabia's execution on Saturday of the cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an act that Iran's supreme leader said would be met with "divine revenge".

The oil-rich rivals have also been divided over the nearly five-year war in Syria, where Iran is backing the regime, and the conflict in Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Shiite rebels.

Ansari, who said that the Iranian diplomats had not yet left Riyadh, insisted Iran had always protected diplomatic missions to ensure the safety of diplomats and dealt with transgressions.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Sunday described the arson at the Saudi Arabian embassy as "totally unjustifiable" and judicial officials said Monday that 50 arrests had been made.

But there were other protests in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Lebanon and Pakistan on Sunday over the execution of Nimr, who spent more than a decade studying theology at Iran's seminaries.

Saudi Arabia's decision to cut diplomatic ties was also criticised by Iran's first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, who accused the kingdom of "hasty and illogical actions".

"It is you (Saudi Arabia) that is going to lose by breaking off relations with Iran," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying, insisting the Islamic republic had acted with restraint when dealing with the kingdom.