Tehran, Jan 6: Iran warned Saudi Arabia today to stop working against it as their diplomatic crisis intensified despite efforts to defuse a row that has raised fears of greater regional instability.
As its diplomats arrived home after being told to leave by Saudi Arabia, Shiite-dominated Iran fired the latest verbal salvo in a dispute that has seen Riyadh and some Sunni Arab allies cut diplomatic ties with Tehran.
At a press conference in the capital, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Riyadh must end prolonged efforts to confront Iran. Citing longstanding differences that became a full-blown split after Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric and activist Nimr al-Nimr, Zarif said the Sunni-ruled kingdom had sought systematically to inflict damage.
"For the past two-and-a-half years, Saudi Arabia has opposed Iran's diplomacy," he said at the press conference with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari. "Saudi Arabia has moved against our efforts and, unfortunately, they opposed the nuclear agreement," Zarif said, also accusing Riyadh of "taking measures against the Iranian people" through its efforts to keep oil prices low. "This trend of creating tension must stop. We need to stand united... and stop those who are adding fuel to the fire," he added.
The spike in tensions comes after Iran last year secured a historic nuclear deal with world powers led by the United States, causing major concern in longtime US ally Riyadh. That deal, when finally implemented, will end sanctions on Iran's oil and gas industry and could see the Islamic republic challenge Saudi Arabia's role as the Middle East's dominant energy and economic power.
Oil prices have fallen by more than 60 percent since mid-2014 as OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia refuses to lower production in a bid to push competitors out of the market, hurting the income of other producers, including Iran. Yesterday, Riyadh cut the February price of its export oil to Europe in another move to win market share.
Nimr's death sparked demonstrations in many countries including Iran, where protesters stormed and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran as well as the kingdom's consulate in second city Mashhad. Riyadh cut ties with Tehran in response and was joined by some of its Sunni Arab allies including Bahrain and Sudan.
The United Arab Emirates also downgraded relations with Iran and Kuwait recalled its ambassador. Djibouti, the tiny Horn of Africa nation and ally of Saudi Arabia, said today that it too had broken diplomatic ties with Tehran.
And Jordan summoned Iran's ambassador to protest the attacks on Saudi missions. Staff at Iran's embassy in Riyadh and its consulate in Jeddah flew home today, Saudi state news agency SPA reported. Iran's state broadcaster IRIB said a plane carrying 54 Iranian diplomats and their families had landed at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport.
The dispute has raised fears of an increase in sectarian tensions in the Middle East that could derail efforts to resolve pressing issues including the wars in Syria and Yemen. The United Nations and Western governments have expressed deep concern, urging both sides to reduce tensions.