Iran's deputy foreign minister has hit back at Riyadh's decision to order Iranian embassy officials out of the country. It follows an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran after the execution of a top Shiite cleric.
Speaking a day after Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Tehran, Iranian deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahain on Monday said the decision was a "big mistake."
He added that Riyadh ordered Iran's embassy staff to leave the country to cover up domestic problems, in comments broadcast on Iranian state TV.
His remarks come as a war of words intensifies between the regional foes over Saudi Arabia's decision to execute prominent Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
Both sides have accused each other of promoting terrorism and extremism in the Middle East as anger over his killing was felt all over the region.
Oil prices rose in Asia on Monday morning as tensions worsened. Brent crude for February was trading 91 cents, or 2.44 percent, higher at $38.19.
Traders were reacting to Saudi Arabia's decision on Sunday to sever ties with Iran after demonstrators stormed its Tehran embassy.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir said the attack was similar to earlier attacks on diplomatic buildings, which he blamed on Tehran.
"The kingdom, in light of these realities, announces the cutting of diplomatic relations with Iran and requests the departure of delegates of diplomatic missions of the embassy and consulate and offices related to it within 48 hours," he said.
Riyadh would not allow the Islamic Republic to undermine the Sunni kingdom's security, he added.
Calls for calm
The US, which is allied with the oil-rich kingdom, has urged diplomatic engagement and called for leaders in the region to reduce tensions.
"We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences, and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions," said US State Department spokesman John Kirby.
Analysts said Al-Nimr's execution has opened a new chapter in the ongoing Sunni-Shiite power struggle playing out across the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia and Iran as primary antagonists.
Saudi diplomats were recalled from Iran after protesters attacked the embassy building in Tehran early on Sunday, along with a consulate in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
Iran has arrested 44 people over the embassy storming, with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani calling the incident "totally unjustifiable."
The execution of the Shiite leader al-Nimr, however, caused outrage both among Iran's officials and the general public. On Sunday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Saudi Arabia would face "divine retribution."
Jubeir responded to Khamenei's remarks by saying that Iran's history was "full of negative interference and hostility in Arab issues, and it is always accompanied by destruction."
mm/se (AFP, dpa, Reuters)