Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made a blunt assessment of the crisis in the Arabian Gulf, saying Iran was behind last week’s attacks on two oil tankers and US sanctions on the country were justified.
Prince Mohammed repeated Riyadh’s position that it did not want war, the same stand taken by the US, Iran and Arab countries involved in the escalation.
But he was clear in his view of the diplomatic campaign against Tehran.
"Iranian recklessness has reached unprecedented levels," Prince Mohammed told Asharq Al Awsat newspaper, adding that the kingdom supported the sanctions by Washington because the world powers should adopt a tough stand against Tehran.
He said Iran’s religious ideology was behind deepening sectarianism in the region, and reaffirmed Saudi commitment to combat ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, which are classified as terrorists by the kingdom and other states.
The US accused Iran of the attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, which drove up oil prices and transport insurance premiums, although the ship’s crews were rescued and their cargoes remained intact.
The Norwegian Front Altair and Japanese Kokuka Courageous were towed to UAE ports.
Iran denied responsibility and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the attacks “suspicious”.
But an editorial in the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar, a staunchly pro-Iranian daily that reported Iran's denials of the attacks, said it was naive to think the strikes did not comprise a "preliminary response" against "an actual war" on the country, which include the sanctions and the Arab support for them.
Saudi Arabia has not specified its response to the incident but Prince Mohammed said Riyadh considered its international role was to protect crucial oil supply routes near the kingdom.
This may suggest that Saudi Arabia could play a support role if the US provided military escorts of tanker convoys, as it did during the 1980-1988 war between Iraq and Iran.
“The problem is in Tehran, not somewhere else," Prince Mohammed told the paper, which is published in Saudi and London.
"Iran is constantly the country behind regional escalation, mounting terrorist attacks, directly or through its proxy militias.
“The choice is clear in front of Iran: does it want to be a normal country with a constructive role or does it want to be on the margins?”
The US intensified sanctions since pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
The restrictions contributed to a steep decline in the Iranian economy, high inflation and huge currency exchange losses.
The attacks on the two tankers occurred as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Tehran to help resolve an impasse over the nuclear deal.
Prince Mohammed said Mr Abe’s visit had done little to deter Iran.
“The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister on Iranian soil as a guest,” he said.
The attacks followed explosions that sabotaged four tankers off the UAE coast on May 12 and several strikes by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels on an airport and oil infrastructure in southern Saudi Arabia.
Prince Mohammed said that to interpret Tehran’s actions, you need to look at one of the major ideological components that fosters extremism – velayat-e faqih, or guardianship of the jurist.
The theory, put in practice by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after the 1979 revolution in Iran, places an eminent Shiite cleric as the absolute legal authority.
But it filters down to other state institutions that are also required to have leading religious figures in their ranks.
"The exporting of the revolution and the velayat-e faqih require the destabilisation of the region and the fanning of sectarianism and the spreading of extremism, and diverting the resources of the Iranian people to arm and finance terrorist militias," Prince Mohammed said.