RIYADH — Iran executed “hundreds of people” annually, actively supported terrorists and sowed conflict throughout the Middle East, Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir told CNBC in an exclusive interview. “Iranians have got away with murder, literally, for more than 30 years,” he said.
“They (Iran) execute hundreds of people every year; nobody says anything about it. This is their system, and so for the Iranians to inject themselves into our domestic affairs is in line with what Iran has been doing for years throughout the region; in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Bahrain, in Yemen.
“They have been providing supplies for terrorists; they have been recruiting people; they have been assassinating people; they have been sowing sectarianism in the region, splitting the Islamic world. Their policies are in violation of all the norms and customs that the international community has been based on,” Al-Jubeir said.
When asked how to resolve the escalating crisis, he said, “Very simple: Iran should back off, stop being aggressive, stop interfering, stop supporting terrorism.”
“I hope that they will turn around and adapt a more conciliatory policy and a more normal policy, the way that countries and governments should behave. And I want to emphasize here that we have no enmity towards Iran, we have no enmity towards the Iranian people,” Al-Jubeir said, adding that Saudi Arabia has merely been reacting to Iran’s outrage.
Regarding Iran’s protest over the execution of Nimr Baqir Al-Nimr, the Saudi foreign minister told CNBC that the man was a “terrorist” akin to Osama Bin Laden.
“Our response is that he (Al-Nimr) is a terrorist,” Al-Jubeir said, adding, “He was implicated in inciting people, recruiting people, providing weapons and munitions for people and he was involved in attacks against security people and police stations that led to the killing of innocents.”
Al-Jubeir said that the cleric and the 46 others executed had received open and fair trials that had been through the courts of appeal and reviewed by the Saudi Supreme Court.
He added that Iran’s response to Al-Nimr’s execution was “very puzzling.” “The charges are clear, the convictions are clear and when the sentences were carried out — that was the end of it. The Kingdom of Saudi (Arabia) should be commended for showing resolve and taking a firm position against people who kill the innocent, not condemned for it. And as far as the Iranians are concerned, what I find very puzzling is this individual is a Saudi citizen, he committed a crime in Saudi Arabia, he was convicted in a Saudi court and the sentence was carried out by Saudi authorities. What does Iran have to do with this?” he said.
The foreign minister said that Saudi Arabia wants better ties, trade and investment with Russia, a country it sees as a “great power.”
“With regards to our relationship with Russia, we believe that the extent of trade we have with Russia is not in line with the size of our respective economies. We are both members of the G20 but we have very little trade, very little investment and so we wanted to change that,” Al-Jubeir said.
“Russia is a great power. Russia has 20 million Muslims living in it. Russia can play a positive role and we wanted to engage with Russia, we wanted to improve our relationship with Russia not at the expense of our relationship with any other country but for the sake of having better ties with Russia.”
He noted that Saudi Arabia would take a pragmatic approach to investing in Russia, however. “If we find investments that are profitable, (then) yes (we will invest). If we find investments that are good for the Saudi people and the Saudi treasury yes, but we invest the way any serious investor does – you look at cost and you look at returns.”
The country had already begun a process of “reaching out and encouraging trade, encouraging scientific exchanges, encouraging investment and we will continue to do that,” Al-Jubeir noted.