Saudi Arabia blasts Iran as 'occupying force' in Syria

Saudi Arabia blasts Iran as 'occupying force' in Syria
Latest war of words marks a return to frosty relations between the two countries.
2 min read
14 October, 2014
Iran denies that its forces fight alongside Assad [AFP/Getty]

Iran is "part of the problem, not the solution", and must withdraw its "occupying" forces from Syria, Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said on Monday, heightening tensions between the two countries.

Tehran responded sharply, accusing the Saudis of aiding in the "suppression" of the Bahraini people.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran is the most important country in the region committed to the fight against terrorism," deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said.

"If Riyadh would have ended its military presence in Bahrain, then the political solution and the termination of suppression of the people, as well as the national dialogue, could be realised," he added.

Iran insists that it has no military forces on the ground, but that Iranian advisers are present in Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad.

Trading accusations

Prince Saud's comments came after talks with Germany's foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Jeddah.

The Saudi minister said that Iranian forces were "fighting Syrians".

       If Iran wants to be part of the solution in Syria, it has to pull its forces from Syria.
-Prince Saud al-Faisal

"In this case, we can say that Iranian forces in Syria are occupying forces. 

"If Iran wants to be part of the solution in Syria, it has to pull its forces from Syria. The same applies elsewhere, whether in Yemen or Iraq," the Saudi minister added.

Iran has said that it had helped Iraq and Syria "fight against terrorism".

Iran has accused Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries of aiding the rise of militants from the Islamic State group (IS, formerly known as ISIS).

However, Saudi Arabia is now taking part in airstrikes led by the US against IS fighters in Syria, and the threat to both Iran and Saudi Arabia from IS had prompted the two countries to improve relations this summer.

The Iranian and Saudi foreign ministers met in New York before the UN General Assembly last month to agree on what was billed as "a new page in relations between the two countries". 

Saudi Arabia and Iran, majority Sunni and Shia countries respectively, have recently tried to renew ties through bilateral meetings and visits. However, they have long viewed each other with suspicion, as is evident from this most recent spat.

Observers have noted that the two countries have effectively been fighting a proxy war throughout the Middle East, supporting opposing groups in Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and elsewhere.