Iran has reacted to a rare televised interview by Saudi Arabia's deputy crown prince, accusing him of stoking tensions in the region with a "destructive" statement ruling out dialogue with Tehran.
Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the designated heir to his father, King Salman, said in unusually blunt remarks on May 2 that he would not seek to open dialogue with Iran because Tehran's goal is to dominate the Muslim world.
At one point, the prince said, "We know that the aim of the Iranian regime is to reach the focal point of Muslims [Mecca], and we will not wait until the fight is inside Saudi Arabia. We will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said on May 3 that "these comments are proof that Saudi Arabia supports terrorism and seeks confrontational and destructive policies in the region and towards Iran."
While Prince Muhammad leveled many criticisms at Iran's Shi'ite-led government, Qassemi said it was Saudi-backed Wahhabism that had bred "radical ideologies" espoused by the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda and that is feeding the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
He said the prince's remarks showed the Saudis, at best, do not understand their region of the world.
"While Western Asia is filled with tension and needs cooperation and understanding among countries, making such comments is a strategic mistake and lacks political sensibility," Qassemi said.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani in February sought to open dialogue with his Sunni Muslim neighbors in a visit to Kuwait during which he said Tehran seeks to restore relations and improve ties with all the Gulf Arab states.
Moreover, Qassemi noted that on May 2, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the Islamic republic was ready to normalize ties with Riyadh if the kingdom halted its bombardment of Yemen -- a move that Prince Muhammad ruled out in the interview.
“Over the past year, Iran has shown in words and deeds that it endeavors towards utilizing common ground to reach understanding and cooperate with all regional countries," Qassemi said.
Riyadh and Tehran earlier this year resolved a major flash point by working out an agreement to allow Iranian pilgrims to attend the 2017 hajj after their absence last year in the wake of a 2015 crowd crush that killed hundreds of Iranian pilgrims.
But otherwise, the atmosphere between Tehran and Riyadh has been increasingly strained and they have no diplomatic relations at present.
Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran last year when Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran to vent anger over Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shi'ite Muslim cleric.
Moreover, the rivalry between the two regional powers has played out increasingly in proxy wars across the Middle East. Besides backing opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen, they support political rivals in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Iraq.