Tensions continue to grow between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
As Iran rejoins the world community after reaching an agreement to limit its nuclear activities, some Saudis say Iran will threaten their country as it grows stronger.
Tensions increased between the countries last month when Saudi Arabia executed a well-known Shi’ite Muslim religious leader. After the execution, protesters attacked Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran, the Iranian capital. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates either cancelled or limited diplomatic relations with Iran.
The Iranian government condemned the attack. It said more than 100 people had been arrested. But some Saudis still place responsibility for the attack on Iranian leaders.
Saudi Arabia and Iran have opposed each other for many years. Some experts say the tensions began more than 1,000 years ago, when the Muslim religion Islam split into Shi’ite and Sunni sects.
Iran is the world’s most powerful Shi’ite-led nation. Saudi Arabia is the strongest Sunni-led country. There are also ethnic differences between the two countries: Saudis are Arab, and Iranians are Persian.
The countries support opposing sides in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Many Saudis say if the group supported by Iran wins in either country, it would threaten the kingdom militarily and psychologically.
Iran supports the Syrian government in its war against rebels and Islamic State militants. Many experts say Iran supports Houthi rebels fighting Yemen’s government, which is supported by Saudi Arabia. Saudi experts say Iran’s actions in Syria and Yemen are an effort to create allies in the Middle East.
Jamal Khashoggi is a well-known Saudi journalist. He notes that there are Shi’ite militias in Iraq. And Egypt is growing closer to Russia -- which also supports Syria. He says Iran is trying to control the Middle East in the same way that Germany tried to control Europe in World War II.
Hamad al-Shehri is an adviser to the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs. He says Saudi Arabia believes its influence has declined over the past year as Iran has become more important.
As Iran negotiated an agreement to limit its nuclear program in exchange for an end to economic sanctions, it promised to be less militant.
Al-Sheri said Saudis were unhappy that during the negotiations, Western nations did not demand that Iran end its actions in Syria, Yemen and other conflicts in the area.
“The United States are our allies,” he said. “We wanted them to send a clear message to the Iranians to stop their interfering and to stop supporting (the) smuggling (of) weapons to those militias.”
He says Saudis are less worried about Iran building a nuclear weapon than about the threat of a war in the Middle East.
On Tuesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called on Saudi Arabia to end what he called its “hostile policies” toward Iran. Saudis say Iran must change its policies before relations can improve.
One Saudi expert says “good relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran…is good for the Muslim world. It is good for the Arab world.”
I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.
VOA's Heather Murdock reported on this story from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
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Words in This Story
psychological – adj. of or relating to the mind
sect – n. a religious group that is a smaller part of a larger group and whose members all share similar beliefs; a religious or political group that is connected to a larger group but that has beliefs that differ greatly from those of the main group
smuggle – v. to move (someone or something) from one country into another illegally and secretly