Copy of 2021-04-28T020704Z_16389063_RC2O4N93MOQN_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI-PRINCE-TAXES-1619600289151
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman speaks during a televised interview in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 27, 2021. Image Credit: Reuters

Cairo: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said Riyadh is interested in “normal ties” with Iran, but blamed the latter’s “negative behaviour” for straining their links.

“Iran is a neighbour. We want normal and distinguished ties with it,” he said in a TV interview shown Tuesday night. “But our problem with Iran lies in its negative behaviour whether its nuclear programme, support for outlawed militias in some countries of the region, or the ballistic missile programme. We are working with our partners in the region and the world to address these challenges. We hope to overcome them,” he added.

Riyadh cut off diplomatic links with Tehran in 2016 and repeatedly accused it of supporting proxy militias in the region, including the Al Houthi rebels in Yemen where Saudi Arabia is leading a military campaign.

“We hope that Al Houthis will sit at the negotiating table with other Yemeni sides to reach solutions that safeguard everyone’s rights and guarantee interests of the region’s countries,” Prince Mohammed said.

“Undoubtedly, Al Houthis have a strong relation with the Iranian regime. But in the final analysis, Al Houthis are Yemenis and have their Arab and Yemeni leanings which I hope will grow bigger and they will take care of their country’s interests before anything else,” he added.

Last month, Saudi Arabia launched a peace initiative for Yemen, proposing a UN-overseen nationwide ceasefire in the country, the reopening of Sana’a airport in the Al Houthi-held capital, and restarting negotiations between the Saudi-backed government and the Iran-allied rebels. The Yemeni government welcomed the initiative.

In recent months, Al Houthis have stepped up their cross-the-border attacks against the Saudi territory and civilian facilities.

“There is no country in the world that accepts the presence of an armed militia on its border,” the Saudi heir apparent said.

Relations with America

After Joe Biden took office in the US in January, his administration announced a halt to backing the Saudi-led drive in Yemen, and pushed for peace in the impoverished country.

Prince Mohammed described the US as a strategic partner to Saudi Arabia, citing little disagreement with the Biden administration.

“There is over 90 per cent of agreement with the Biden administration on the Saudi-US interests. Each is working on boosting them in one way or another,” he added. “Matters on which we disagree make up less than 10 per cent and we are working to find solutions to them and understandings around them as well as to neutralise their perils to our countries,” he added without details.

Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, was a close ally of Saudi Arabia that backed his tough line against Iran.