LONDON (Reuters) - British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said that Saudi Arabia and Iran are stoking proxy wars across the Middle East while some politicians in the region are abusing Islam, the Guardian newspaper reported.
Britain has a long alliance with Saudi Arabia which is a major customer for British defense companies, though Britain's ties with Iran have been tumultuous since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Johnson, who was appointed foreign minister by Prime Minister Theresa May in July, told an audience in Rome last week that the absence of real leadership in the Middle East had allowed people to twist religion and stoke proxy wars.
"You’ve got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in, and puppeteering and playing proxy wars. And it is a tragedy to watch it," Johnson was shown saying in footage posted on the Guardian's website.
It is unclear from the footage whether he specifically accused Saudi and Iran of twisting religion, though the Guardian newspaper reported that Johnson had accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam.
"There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That’s one of the biggest political problems in the whole region," Johnson said.
A former journalist and mayor of London known for often outlandish comments and comical behavior, Johnson was the leading voice in the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union.
A Foreign Office spokesman said Britain was an ally of Saudi Arabia and that any suggestion to the contrary is wrong.
"As the Foreign Secretary made very clear on Sunday, we are allies with Saudi Arabia and support them in their efforts to secure their borders and protect their people. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong and misinterpreting the facts," the spokesman said.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Andrew Heavens)