The British government has distanced itself from comments made by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson who accused Iran, Britain's ally Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern states of engaging in "proxy wars."
Prime Minister Theresa May's spokeswoman Helen Bower said they are Johnson's own views and do not reflect Britain's policy on Saudi Arabia and its role in the region.
The Guardian newspaper published on December 7 footage of a conference in Rome last week in which Johnson talks of Middle Eastern politicians "twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives."
The foreign secretary said there was a lack of "big characters" in the region who were willing to "reach out beyond their Sunni or Shi’ite or whatever group to the other side and bring people together and to develop a national story again."
"That is what’s lacking," he added. "And that’s the tragedy."
He went on, saying "that's why you've got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars."
The video emerged as British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was "clear-eyed about the threat" that Iran poses to the Middle East and said she would work with Persian Gulf nations to "counter that threat."
She made the comments on December 7 to Gulf Cooperation Council representatives from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry responded by saying Britain is "not in a position to accuse others of interfering in regional affairs."