Saudi-Iranian relations hit a low in 2016 when the Saudis severed diplomatic relations with Iran after the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was stormed by Iranian rioters, outraged over the Saudi execution of an outspoken Shiite cleric.
Signs of a Saudi-Iranian thaw emerged a few months ago when the Saudis said Iranians would be able to participate in this year’s hajj, the pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. No Iranians attended the 2016 hajj, partly because of tensions over a human crush at the 2015 hajj that left more than 2,400 dead, including nearly 500 Iranians.
But the Saudi prince appeared to douse any prospect of further improvement in the interview with the Saudi-owned MBC television. Excerpts were distributed to Western and Arab news agencies before the broadcast of the full interview Tuesday night.
Asked if a direct dialogue is envisioned with Iran, the prince said that would be impossible because of what he described as the Iranian religious conviction that Shiites were destined to take over the Islamic world.
“How do you have a dialogue with this?” the prince said.
He was referring to the Shiite belief in Imam Mahdi, the so-called hidden Imam, said to be a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad who will return to save the world from destruction.
The prince said Iranians believe that “the Imam Mahdi will come and they must prepare the fertile environment for the arrival of the awaited Mahdi and they must control the Muslim world.”
Roughly a quarter of the global population of 7.5 billion are Muslims, the vast majority of them Sunnis.
There was no immediate response to the prince’s remarks from Iran. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, said recently that his country has no fight to pick with Saudi Arabia, but he accused the Saudis of “fueling tensions in the region through their policies and stances.”