Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad ZarifReuters

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, is accusing Saudi Arabia of trying to “drag the entire region into confrontation”.

The accusation, written in an op-ed by Zarif for The New York Times, comes amid tensions between regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia following Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

“President [Hassan] Rouhani has repeatedly declared that Iran’s top foreign policy priority is friendship with our neighbors, peace and stability in the region and global cooperation, especially in the fight against extremism,” wrote Zarif.

“Unfortunately,” he charged, “some countries stand in the way of constructive engagement.”

“Following the signing of the interim nuclear deal in November 2013, Saudi Arabia began devoting its resources to defeating the deal, driven by fear that its contrived Iranophobia was crumbling. Today, some in Riyadh not only continue to impede normalization but are determined to drag the entire region into confrontation,” continued Zarif.

“Saudi Arabia seems to fear that the removal of the smoke screen of the nuclear issue will expose the real global threat: its active sponsorship of violent extremism,” wrote the Iranian Foreign Minister. “The barbarism is clear. At home, state executioners sever heads with swords, as in the recent execution of 47 prisoners in one day, including Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a respected religious scholar who devoted his life to promoting nonviolence and civil rights. Abroad, masked men sever heads with knives.”

“Let us not forget that the perpetrators of many acts of terror, from the horrors of September 11 to the shooting in San Bernardino and other episodes of extremist carnage in between, as well as nearly all members of extremist groups like Al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front, have been either Saudi nationals or brainwashed by petrodollar-financed demagogues who have promoted anti-Islamic messages of hatred and sectarianism for decades,” claimed Zarif.

He then went on to accuse Saudi Arabia of trying “to derail the nuclear agreement” and “perpetuate tension in the region” by pressuring the West; promoting regional instability through waging war in Yemen and sponsoring extremism, and “directly provoking Iran.”

“The Iranian government at the highest level unequivocally condemned the assault against the Saudi embassy and consulate in Tehran on Jan. 2, and ensured the safety of Saudi diplomats,” he wrote, in reference to the incident where protesters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashad, following which Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran.

“We took immediate measures to help restore order to the Saudi diplomatic compound and declared our determination to bring perpetrators to justice. We also took disciplinary action against those who failed to protect the embassy and have initiated an internal investigation to prevent any similar event,” added Zarif.

“By contrast,” he then charged, “the Saudi government or its surrogates have over the past three years directly targeted Iranian diplomatic facilities in Yemen, Lebanon and Pakistan — killing Iranian diplomats and locals.”

Zarif also blasted Saudi Arabia for what he called “the routine practice of hate speech not only against Iran but against all Shiite Muslims by Saudi Arabia’s government-appointed preachers.”

“Throughout these episodes, Iran, confident of its strength, has refused to retaliate or break — or even downgrade — diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia. We have until now responded with restraint; but unilateral prudence is not sustainable,” he warned.

“Iran has no desire to escalate tension in the region,” claimed Zarif, who called on the Saudi leadership to “make a choice: They can continue supporting extremists and promoting sectarian hatred; or they can opt to play a constructive role in promoting regional stability. We hope that reason will prevail.”