British PM slaps down foreign minister over Saudi comments
LONDONDec 09, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
Dec 09, 2016 12:00 am
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson was not setting out government policy when he said Saudi Arabia and Iran were stoking proxy wars across the Middle East, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday. Johnson, known for his colorful use of language and tendency to go off-script, 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.
It is the latest in a series of gaffes to plague the foreign minister, who even May has jokingly said is hard to keep "on message for a full four days." He has been criticized by some EU officials for using less-than-diplomatic language in talks on Britain's decision to leave the bloc.
May's quick response underlines the importance of Britain's alliance with Saudi Arabia, which is a major customer for British defense companies.
"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 newspaper's website. "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.
It is unclear from the footage whether he specifically accused Saudi and Iran of twisting religion, though the Guardian reported that Johnson had accused Saudi Arabia of abusing Islam.
May, who visited the Middle East this week, met Saudi King Salman and "set out very clearly the government's view on our relationship with Saudi Arabia, that it is a vital partner for the UK particularly on counter-terrorism", she said.
About the author
Research Associate at Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA) at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University