DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran rejected criticism from Saudi Arabia on Tuesday about Tehran's interventions in unstable countries in the Middle East, and accused the kingdom in turn of playing a destabilizing role in the volatile region.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham was responding to comments by Riyadh's foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir, who on Monday said Iran's military role in Syria disqualified it from playing a role in peacemaking efforts there.
"The Saudi foreign minister, whose country has taken a military-led approach and fostered extremism in regional conflicts ... is not qualified to talk about Iran's role in the region," Afkham was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Iran are vying for influence in the Middle East. Both powers take an active role in conflicts from Syria to Yemen while blaming the other for fostering instability and sectarianism.
Jubeir said that by arming Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and sending "Shi'ite militias" to fight alongside his forces, Tehran had become an "occupier of Arab lands", as he repeated his call for Assad to step down.
Afkham in turn accused Riyadh of playing a divisive role. "The only country that continues to take a zero-sum approach to regional developments and tries to eliminate other powers is Saudi Arabia, and this unconstructive approach leads nowhere," she said.
(Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Editing by William Maclean and Tom Heneghan)