Riyadh: A general view of a meeting of the Shura, an advisory body, before the speech by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.—AFP
Riyadh: A general view of a meeting of the Shura, an advisory body, before the speech by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.—AFP

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman urged arch-rival Iran on Wednesday to abandon an expansionist ideology that has “harmed” its own people, following violent street protests in the Islamic republic.

A wave of demonstrations erupted in the sanctions-hit country on Friday after an announcement that petrol prices would be raised by as much as 200 percent with immediate effect.

“We hope the Iranian regime chooses the side of wisdom and realises there is no way to overcome the international position that rejects its practices, without abandoning its expansionist and destructive thinking that has harmed its own people,” the king told the consultative Shura Council.

The region’s leading powers have no diplomatic ties and are at odds over a range of issues, including the wars in Syria and Yemen.

“The kingdom has suffered from the policies and practices of the Iranian regime and its proxies,” King Salman said, quoted by the foreign ministry, reiterating that Riyadh does not seek war but is “ready to defend its people”.

Saudi leaders regularly accuse Iran of stirring conflicts by supporting Shia movements in the region.

The King touted his country’s reforms in his annual address and stressed the importance of his governments decision to publicly list shares of the state-run oil giant Aramco.

Two key Saudi Aramco processing sites were targeted by drones and missiles in September, knocking out nearly 6 percent of daily global crude production.

The attack was claimed by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels at war with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. The US and Saudi Arabia, however, blame Iran for the attack an allegation denied by Iran.

King Salman said Saudi Arabia’s ability to quickly recover and meet global oil demand after the attacks prove its leading role in ensuring the security and stability of global energy supplies.

King Salman reiterated in his speech Saudi allegations that Iran was behind the attack on Aramco, as well as others targeting oil tankers around the Persian Gulf over the summer.

He said Saudi Arabia adhered to wisdom in confronting these cowardly acts.

“Iran must realise that it has before it serious choices and that for each there are consequences to bear,” King Salman said, adding that his country does not seek war but is prepared to defend itself firmly against any aggression. On Yemen, where Saudi Arabia has been at war for nearly five years, King Salman expressed hope that a recent power-sharing agreement reached in the south of the country will open the door to broader peace talks.

Separately, the monarch also commended his governments decision to expand tourist visas this year, describing the move as a way to attract investments, create jobs and showcase Saudi heritage and culture. Previously, visit visas were largely restricted to religious pilgrims, direct relatives of residents or small authorised tour groups.

The monarch’s 8-minute-long speech was broadcast on Saudi state TV and delivered before the consultative Shura Council, senior clerics, ministers and princes.

Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2019