By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK, July 17 – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Monday that he hopes Yemen’s war will not spark direct confrontation between Iran and Saudi Arabia and that they can work together to end the conflict in the country and Syria.
A Saudi Arabia-led coalition intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015, backing government forces fighting Iran-allied Houthi rebels. Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for influence in the Middle East, also supporting rival groups in Syria’s civil war.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in May that any struggle for influence between the Sunni Muslim kingdom and revolutionary Shi’ite theocracy Iran ought to take place “inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”
When asked at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York if he was worried about direct confrontation between Tehran and Riyadh, Zarif said: “We certainly hope not … We don’t have to fight; we don’t need to fight. We don’t need to try to exclude each other from the scene in the Middle East.”
“We certainly hope that if we don’t agree with each other about the situation in Yemen or about the situation in Syria we can still work with each other in order to bring those situations to an end,” said Zarif, who was in New York for a high-level U.N. meeting on sustainable development.
Earlier this year Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt all cut off diplomatic and transport ties with Qatar on June 5, accusing it of financing Islamist militant groups and allying with Iran – allegations Qatar denies.
“Iran is a serious partner for all these countries in fighting a common enemy because we believe at the end of the day … these extremist forces are as much a threat against us, but even more a threat against them,” Zarif said.
Zarif said that there was no communication between himself and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but that “doesn’t mean there can’t be.” He said Iranian officials had regular contact with U.S. officials regarding a 2015 deal between Tehran and key world powers to curb its nuclear program.
He said Iran was not designing missiles to carry nuclear warheads, which is banned under the nuclear deal, and that the country’s missiles were only for self defense.
“We need them to make sure that another Saddam Hussein around the corner will not come and hit us again,” he said.