Saudi Crown Prince: Kingdom Isn’t Seeking War in Region

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. (Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via Reuters)

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in remarks published Sunday that the kingdom is not seeking war in the region, but warned it will not hesitate to confront threats to its security.

His comments came just days after the U.S. blamed Iran for suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, denouncing what it called a campaign of “escalating tensions” in a region crucial to global energy supplies. The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers, pointing to black-and-white footage it captured that American officials describe as Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops removing an unexploded mine from the Japanese-operated tanker, Kokuka Courageous.

The U.S. accusations come as the Trump Administration has re-imposed punishing economic sanctions on Tehran once lifted by the 2015 nuclear deal, targeting Iranian oil exports among other key sectors. In recent weeks, the U.S. has sent an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the region in what it says is aimed at Iranian deterrence.

In interview with the Arabic-language newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Prince Mohammed also accused Iran of being behind the latest tanker attacks. He said Iran disrespected the visit to Tehran by the Japanese prime minister last week and responded to his diplomatic efforts to reduce regional tensions by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese.

Iran has rejected the U.S. claim that it was responsible for Thursday’s attacks, saying it stands ready to play an active and constructive role in ensuring the security of strategic maritime passages.

Iran has also been accused of being behind the May 12 attacks on four oil tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Two of those vessels belonged to Saudi Arabia.

In his first public comments since the start of these incidents, the powerful Saudi prince, who is also defense minister and oversees all major levers of power in the country, said the attacks “confirm the importance of our demands of the international community to take a decisive stance” against Iran’s behavior.

“The kingdom does not seek war in the region, but we will not hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, sovereignty and vital interests,” he said.

Last month, an English-language Saudi newspaper close to the palace had called for the U.S. to launch “surgical” strikes against Iran in retaliation for the earlier vessel and pipeline attacks.

The prince reiterated longstanding Saudi accusations against rival Iran of using militias to destabilize the region. He also touted U.S.-Saudi relations as “essential to achieving regional security and stability.”

“The problem is in Tehran and not anywhere else,” Prince Mohammed said. “Iran is always the party that’s escalating in the region, carrying out terrorist attacks and criminal attacks either directly or through its militias.”

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of arming Yemeni rebels known as Houthis, who claimed responsibility for a missile strike on a Saudi airport in the city of Abha that the kingdom said wounded 26 passengers last week. The Houthis also carried out a drone strike last month on a key Saudi oil pipeline. Saudi Arabia has been at war against the Houthis in Yemen since early 2015.

“The choice before Iran is clear. Do you want to be a normal state with a constructive role in the international community or do you want to be a rogue state?” the crown prince was quoted as saying.

His comments mirrored those made by his father, King Salman, at emergency summits held in Mecca last month that drew heads of state from Arab and Muslim countries to address the sharp rise in tensions with Iran.

Thursday’s apparent attacks in the Strait of Hormuz forced the evacuation of all 44 sailors aboard the two vessels. On Saturday, Associated Press journalists saw the crew members of the Norwegian-owned oil tanker MT Front Altair arrive at Dubai International Airport, after spending two days in Iran.

The Front Altair, which caught fire after the apparent attack, limped into anchorage Sunday off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates, near the port city of Khorfakkan.