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Saudi Arabia will not hesitate to confront regional threats, the country's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said in an interview published days after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacking two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.
“The kingdom does not want war in the region, but we will not hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty and our vital interests," Salman told influential pan-Arabic newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
In the interview published Sunday, the crown prince blamed Saudi Arabia's arch rival Iran and its agents for carrying out “acts of sabotage” to four tankers near the port of Fujairah, including two Saudi carriers, last month.
The attacks on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz earlier this week stoked fears of a broader conflict in the region. Iran has denied any role in the incidents.
The U.S. alleges Iran used limpet mines to target the tankers. The Japanese owner of the tanker later said it was struck by a flying projectile, contradicting reports by U.S. officials and the military on the source of the blast.
The explosions occurred while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Iran’s capital Tehran trying to help ease rising tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
"The Iranian regime did not respect the Japanese prime minister's visit to Tehran, and while he was there replied to his efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese," Salman told al-Awsat.
Meanwhile, Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency reported that Iranian officials will on Monday announce additional steps to reduce the country's commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear pact, which Washington withdrew from last year.
Salman, who is also defense minister and oversees all major levers of power in the country, said recent events in the region underscore the importance of the kingdom's demands for the international community to take “a firm stand” against Iran.
“The choice is clear to Iran,” the crown prince said in the interview, ratcheting up the rhetoric on Tehran. “Do you want to be a normal state with a constructive role in the international community, or do you want to remain a rogue state?”
Salman’s government is at the head of a coalition involved in a bloody, four-year war with Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen, which has led to one of the biggest humanitarian crises in the world.
Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of arming the Houthis, who claimed responsibility for a missile strike on a Saudi airport in the city of Abha that the kingdom said wounded 26 passengers last week. The Houthis also carried out a drone strike last month on a key Saudi oil pipeline.
Salman said Saudi Arabia will continue its operations in Yemen and support its people “in their quest to protect their independence and sovereignty."
The crown prince also touched on other topics, such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year, which he called “a very painful crime.”
The death of the Washington Post writer, a longtime Saudi insider who became a critic of Salman, caused international outrage and left the crown prince’s reformist image in tatters. U.S. intelligence services have said it was inconceivable that bin Salman had no connection to the journalist’s killing.
The crown prince told al-Awsat the Kingdom is seeking “full justice and accountability” in Khashoggi’s murder.