(CNN) Iran’s foreign minister says Saudi Arabia is “panicking” over the potential for reduced tensions between Tehran and the West, that he is happy for the families of Americans previously imprisoned in Iran, and that the U.S. is “addicted” to sanctions.
“We do not have a fight to pick with Saudi Arabia,” Javad Zarif told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive TV interview.
“We believe that Iran and Saudi Arabia can be two important players who can accommodate each other, who can complement each other, in the region.”
Zarif said that the alliance between Saudi Arabia and Western nations, and the tension between those nations and Iran, provided a “smoke screen” that allowed Saudi Arabia to “export this Wahhabi ideology of extremism.” (Wahhabism is the branch of Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia.)
Hopes for relations between Iran and the West are high after last weekend’s implementation of a hard-won deal, agreed to last July, to swap relief of sanctions on Iran for guarantees about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.
The foreign minister emphasized, as he did in an op-ed for The New York Times earlier this month, that 15 of the 19 September 11 hijackers were Saudis, and blamed the “Wahhabi ideology” for much of the violent extremism now seen in the region and indeed in the West.
Saudis: ‘We have confidence in the United States’
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday that his country was deeply skeptical of the Iran nuclear deal.
“We don’t have confidence in Iran,” he said. “We have confidence in the United States.”
Long-simmering tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been on the rise recently.
Since last year, the two have been fighting a proxy war of sorts over Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has intervened.
But the problems really flared just after the new year, when Saudi Arabia executed 47 people, including a prominent Shiite cleric.
The Iranian government expressed indignation, and protesters in Tehran attacked the Saudi Arabian Embassy. Six Middle Eastern nations decried Iran’s failure to protect the embassy, and Saudi Arabiacut off diplomatic relations. Days later, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of intentionally striking its embassy in Yemen.
Zarif told CNN: “We don’t expect, or we’re not interested even, in pushing Saudi Arabia out of this region, because Saudi Arabia is an important player in this region.”
“We were always in the community of nations. Now their allies have recognized that Iran is a serious partner.”