Saudi Arabia blasts Iran for accusation it played part in killing of nuke chief

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — A senior Saudi minister on Tuesday lashed out at Iran’s foreign minister for implying Riyadh played a role in the assassination of leading nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Fakhrizadeh, considered the architect of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, was killed on Friday after his car was targeted in a bomb and gun attack on a road outside the capital Tehran, heightening tensions between Iran and its foes.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday said on Instagram that a covert meeting in Saudi Arabia between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contributed to the assassination, alleging it was a “conspiracy.”

“Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif is desperate to blame the kingdom for anything negative that happens in Iran,” Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi minister of state for foreign affairs, wrote on Twitter. “Will he blame us for the next earthquake or flood?”

“It is not the policy of Saudi Arabia to engage in assassinations,” he added.

Saudi Arabia’s Adel al-Jubeir speaks to the media during a press conference in Prague, Czech Republic, January 10, 2020. (AP/Petr David Josek)

Unlike other Gulf states, Saudi Arabia –- a Sunni powerhouse locked in a decades-old rivalry with Shiite power Iran –- has not formally condemned the assassination.

Last month, Netanyahu held landmark talks in Saudi Arabia with the crown prince, according to Israeli media reports and an Israeli government source.

Netanyahu and Mossad spy agency chief Yosef Meir Cohen met Prince Mohammed, together with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in the Red Sea city of Neom, the sources said.

But Riyadh denied any such meeting took place.

Saudi Arabia has no official diplomatic ties with Israel, but both sides are furtively building relations on the basis of shared animosity towards Iran. Israel earlier this year signed normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, Sunni Gulf states with close ties to Saudi Arabia.

The New York Times said an American official and two other intelligence officials said Israel was behind the attack on Fakhrizadeh. Israel has not officially commented on the assassination.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has accused Israel of trying to create “chaos” by assassinating the scientist, but said his country will not fall into a “trap.”

Tehran officially denies plans to develop atomic weapons, maintaining its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, though a trove of Iranian documents stolen from Tehran by the Mossad, which where revealed by Netanyahu in 2018, showed plans by Iran to attach a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile.

Iran has suffered several devastating attacks this year, including the killing of top general Qassem Soleimani in a US drone strike in January, and a mysterious explosion and fire that crippled an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, which is widely believed to have been an act of sabotage.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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