BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday that Saudi Arabia presents Iran as an enemy because it wants to cover up its defeats in the region.
“Saudi Arabia was unsuccessful in Qatar, was unsuccessful in Iraq, in Syria and recently in Lebanon. In all of these areas, they were unsuccessful,” Rouhani said in the interview live on state television. “So they want to cover up their defeats.”
The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran back rival sides in the wars and political crises throughout the region.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince called the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “the new Hitler of the Middle East” in an interview with the New York Times published last week, escalating the war of words between the arch-rivals.
Tensions soared this month when Lebanon’s Saudi-allied Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in a television broadcast from Riyadh, citing the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and risks to his life.
Hezbollah called the move an act of war engineered by Saudi authorities, an accusation they denied.
Hariri returned to Lebanon last week and suspended his resignation but has continued his criticism of Hezbollah.
Iran, Iraq, Syria and Russia form a line of resistance in the region that has worked toward stability and achieved “big accomplishments”, Rouhani said in the interview, which was reviewing his first 100 days in office in his second term.
Separately, Rouhani defended his government’s response to an earthquake in western Iran two weeks ago, a major challenges for his administration.
The magnitude 7.3 quake, Iran’s worst in more than a decade, killed at least 530 people and injured thousands. The government’s response has become a lightning rod for Rouhani’s hard-line rivals, who have said the government did not respond adequately or quickly to the disaster.
Supreme Leader Khamenei, the highest authority in Iran, has also criticized the government response.
Hard-line media outlets have highlighted the role played by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the most powerful military body in Iran and an economic powerhouse worth billions of dollars, in helping victims of the earthquake.
Government ministries have provided health care for victims and temporary housing has been sent to the earthquake zone, but problems still exist, Rouhani said in the interview.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, Editing by Larry King)