Iran and Saudi Arabia exchange accusations of regional 'meddling'

Iran and Saudi Arabia exchange accusations of regional 'meddling'
Tehran has accused Riyadh of pursing a zero-sum game in the region, after the Saudi foreign minister called Iran an occupying force in Syria.
3 min read
20 October, 2015
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Iran was 'an occupier of Arab lands' [AFP]
Iran is now an "occupier of Arab lands in Syria" and doesn't have a role in peacemaking efforts in the conflict there, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Monday.

Speaking at a joint news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Jubeir repeated Riyadh's view that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is supported by Iran, had to leave power if peace was to be achieved.

"The question is: What must Iran do to be part of the solution in Syria? The answer is very simple: It has to withdraw from Syria and it has to stop supplying weapons to Bashar al-Assad's regime and it has to withdraw the Shia militias that it sent... and then it can have a role," Jubeir said.

Iran was now an "occupier of Arab lands in Syria", he added.

Tehran has helped arm the Syrian government and, by backing Hizballah fighters, helped Assad fight opposition rebels seeking to end his rule in the four-year conflict.

Jubeir said he hoped Iran would stop interfering in the affairs of regional neighbours.

"We are determined to confront any Iranian moves and we will do everything we can with what we have in political, economic and military means to protect our lands and people," he said.

Jubeir said Assad could hold onto power in war-torn Syria only until a transitional council of opposition and government figures had been set up.

"We have said that... after the formation of the governing council, Bashar al-Assad will have to leave.

"Whether it's today, whether it's a week, whether it's a month, it's up to the Syrian people, but from the very beginning it's clear that Bashar al-Assad has no future in Syria."
[Iran] has to withdraw from Syria... and then it can have a role
- Adel al-Jubeir, Saudi foreign minister

The governing council idea was proposed under a UN-sponsored Geneva I peace initiative in 2012. The council would run state institutions and pave the way for elections.

Germany's Steinmeier agreed that "in the long term, there can be no solution there with Assad".

Resolving the conflict in Syria "has not become easier with the military involvement of Russia," Berlin's foreign minister added.

Multilateral talks on Syria

In reply to a question about Washington's plan to hold a Syria summit involving Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, the speaker of Russia's upper chamber of parliament said on Monday that Russia was always in favour of talks.

"We are always for talks in any format and we believe that talks are very important for trust and confidence building and finding compromise," Valentina Matviyenko told a news conference in Geneva.

Earlier, a source in Russia's foreign ministry told Interfax news agency that Moscow was considering the summit proposal suggested by US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Meanwhile, the US and Russia are set to sign an "understanding" - specifying how pilots can avoid each other over Syria as the two powers conduct separate bombing campaigns, a Pentagon spokesman said.

Russia asked for "deconfliction" talks with the United States after Moscow began bombing Syria on September 30.

Russia claims to be targeting the Islamic State group and other "terrorists", but the Pentagon says it is hitting non-IS rebels fighting government forces loyal to Assad.

Iran responds

Iran rejected Riyadh's criticism, accusing the kingdom in turn of playing a destabilising role in the volatile region.

"The Saudi foreign minister, whose country has taken a military-led approach and fostered extremism in regional conflicts... is not qualified to talk about Iran's role in the region," said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have long been vying for influence in the Middle East. Both powers take an active role in conflicts from Syria to Yemen while blaming the other for fostering instability and sectarianism.

Afkham accused Riyadh of playing a divisive role: "The only country that continues to take a zero-sum approach to regional developments and tries to eliminate other powers is Saudi Arabia, and this non-constructive approach leads nowhere."