Iran said on May 4 that it is ready for talks with Saudi Arabia to promote regional peace despite what Tehran called "unlawful and inflammatory" remarks made recently by the Saudi deputy crown prince.
Prince Muhammad bin Salman, the designated heir to his father, King Salman, said in a rare televised interview on May 2 that he would not seek to open dialogue with Iran because Tehran's goal is to dominate the Muslim world.
Prince Salman said: "We know that the aim of the Iranian regime is to reach the focal point of Muslims (Mecca), and we will not wait until the fight is inside Saudi Arabia. We will work so that the battle is on their side, inside Iran, not in Saudi Arabia."
Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gholamali Khoshroo, responded on May 4 in a letter to the UN Security Council and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that Tehran has "no desire, nor any interest, in an escalation of tension in our neighborhood."
Khoshroo said Iran is "ready for dialogue and accommodation to promote regional stability, combat destabilizing extremist violence, and reject sectarian hatred."
Khoshroo’s letter said, "We hope Saudi Arabia will be persuaded to heed the call of reason."
Tehran initially reacted angrily to Prince Salman’s statement, accusing him of stoking tensions in the region with "destructive" remarks.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi on May 3 said “these comments are proof that Saudi Arabia supports terrorism and seeks confrontational and destructive policies in the region and towards Iran."
While Salman leveled many criticisms at Iran's Shi'ite-led government, Qassemi said it is Saudi-backed Wahhabism that has bred "radical ideologies" espoused by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda and that is feeding the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the prince's remarks show the Saudis, at best, do not understand their region of the world.
"While Western Asia is filled with tension and needs cooperation and understanding among countries, making such comments is a strategic mistake and lacks political sensibility," Qassemi said.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani in February sought to open dialogue with his Sunni Muslim neighbors in a visit to Kuwait during which he said Tehran seeks to restore relations and improve ties with all the Gulf Arab states.
Qassemi noted that on May 2, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced that Tehran was ready to normalize ties with Riyadh if the Kingdom halted its bombardment of Shi’ite rebels in Yemen -- a move that Salman ruled out in the interview.
"Over the past year, Iran has shown in words and deeds that it endeavors towards utilizing common ground to reach understanding and cooperate with all regional countries," Qassemi said.
Riyadh and Tehran earlier this year resolved a contentious dispute by working out an agreement to allow Iranian pilgrims to attend the 2017 hajj.
Iranians were largely absent from the hajj pilgrimage in 2016 following a 2015 crowd stampede that killed hundreds of Iranian worshippers.
Otherwise, the atmosphere between Tehran and Riyadh has been increasingly strained.
Saudi Arabia severed formal diplomatic relations with Iran in 2016 when Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran to vent anger over Riyadh's execution of a prominent Shi'ite Muslim cleric.
Moreover, the rivalry between the two regional powers has played out increasingly in proxy wars across the Middle East. Besides backing opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen, they support political rivals in Lebanon, Bahrain, and Iraq.