Tuesday, 14 January, 2020

Blame Saudi Arabia and the US for regional instability, Iran’s foreign minister says

Iran called out its regional rival Saudi Arabia in response to accusations that Tehran is a leading state sponsor of terror, accusing Riyadh and the United States of fomenting ‘dangerous escalations’ in the Middle East.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Doha Forum in Qatar, Iranian foreign Minister Javad Zarif rejected the label of the world’s top sponsor of terrorism ascribed to it by Saudi Arabia and the U.S.

“I think actions speak much louder than words; what is happening in our region, now people are witnessing the source of instability in region, be it in Yemen, be it elsewhere,” the minister said.

“It’s the wrong policies that are being followed, not only by Saudi Arabia but by its allies in the West who have given it a blank check to continue to make these very dangerous escalations in the region,” Zarif added.

Zarif’s hit at Saudi Arabia was unsurprising, given the recent years of escalation between the Shia and Sunni powerhouses grappling for greater influence in the Middle East.

His comments referred to the four-year long civil war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led bombing campaign has contributed to thousands of deaths, economic collapse and what the U.N. has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. For their part, the Saudis have blamed Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who receive support from Tehran.

Blame game over Yemen

Regional analysts say that Iran’s support for the Houthis was negligible when they first overtook the capital Sanaa in 2014. Yet the bombing campaign and the war’s subsequent worsening greatly increased the scope for Iranian involvement, which includes provision of ballistic missiles — dozens of which have been fired at Saudi Arabia.

But with thousands of Yemenis killed and more than 12 million facing starvation, international aid organizations and governments have been urging Saudi Arabia and its allies to halt its airstrikes, which the U.N. blames for the majority of the war’s civilian deaths. The offensive is backed by the U.S., which supplies intelligence, logistics support, training and mid-air refueling to Saudi and UAE forces.

Five international aid groups penned a statement earlier this month warning that if Washington did not end its support for the Saudi-coalition, it too “will bear responsibility for what will be the largest famine in decades.”

The U.S. points to gross human rights violations carried out by the Houthis, and rights groups acknowledge that no party to the conflict is without blame for the carnage in the Arab world’s poorest country.

On Thursday, parties representing the Saudi-supported Yemeni government and the Houthis agreed to a cease-fire in the critical port city of Hodeida, the most significant step toward peace made since the war’s start.

But Washington also emphasizes Iran’s support for violent proxies all over the region, including Lebanese political party and militant group Hezbollah, and its support for President Bashar al Assad in Syria.

The Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in May of this year, citing the country’s “malign activity” in the region, as well as its continued testing of ballistic missiles.

But the end of the deal, which was spearheaded by the Obama administration and had lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program, came with heavy criticism from the deal’s signatories. Europe, Russia and China have all stated that Tehran had been meeting its obligations. Meanwhile, European leaders have been working for several months to salvage the deal and find means to sidestep re-imposed U.S. sanctions on Iran.

Zarif on Saturday took issue with the U.S.’s actions, telling CNBC that America is actually “the party that’s violated the nuclear agreement.”

He added: “It doesn’t matter whether this admin negotiated it or the previous administration. The U.S. government has negotiated it, they have violated it and it puts them in no position to accuse us of this.”

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