Saudi foreign minister warns of additional measures against Iran

Fallout from execution of cleric goes on but defence minister does not foresee war

Disappointed over the failure of Arab League and Gulf Cooperation Council members to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain by cutting diplomatic relations with Iran in response to an attack on Riyadh's embassy in Tehran, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubair has warned of unspecified "additional measures" against Iran.

The assault on the embassy was prompted by Saudi Arabia’s execution of Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, convicted of sedition in 2014.

Four Iranians detained by the Saudis since 2013 have now been put on trial, one for spying, three for terrorism.

Three Arab states have downgraded rather than cut relations, unwilling to exacerbate the rift between Riyadh and Tehran manifested in proxy wars in Syria, Iraq, and Yemen that have stirred tension between Sunnis and Shias across the region.


The last thing the Arabs want is direct military confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose rivalry predates the 1979 Iranian revolution. In a bid to calm concerns, in his first major interview with a foreign publication, Saudi deputy crown prince Mohamed bin Salman (30) told the Economist war "is something that we do not foresee at all . . . [War would be] the beginning of a major catastrophe in the region . . . we will not allow any such thing."

The king’s favourite son, the prince is defence minister and oversees foreign affairs.

Yemen conflict

He denied being the “architect” of the Yemen war, launched last March after he assumed the defence portfolio, and blamed the conflict on rebel Shia Houthi tribesmen who had seized the capital, other key cities, and driven the Saudi-backed government into exile. He did not admit the Yemen conflict had become a quagmire for Saudi Arabia and its allies which are accused of being largely responsible for the deaths of 2,800 Yemeni civilians, using prohibited cluster bombs, and starving Yemenis by blockading the country’s ports.

The prince, who is also in charge of the economy, said there would be fundamental changes in the kingdom to wean it from oil, now selling at $35 a barrel, including imposition of value added tax, reduced subsidies, and privatisation of public firms. He suggested shares could be sold in Saudi Aramco, the world’s most valuable company, said to be worth $1.25 to $7 trillion.

A proposed sale of Saudi Aramco shares reveals the level of desperation in Riyadh which argues it is assailed from multiple directions by Iran: in Syria, Iraq and Yemen; Bahrain, where a Saudi-backed Sunni monarch rules over an 80 per cent Shia populace; and its own Shia majority oil-rich Eastern Province.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times