Iran Says Saudi Arabia Is 'Always Popular with the U.S.' Despite Accusations It Killed Khashoggi and Bombed Civilians

Iran has criticized the U.S.'s continued staunch support for its ally Saudi Arabia, despite allegations it was involved in the disappearance of a prominent journalist abroad, supported militant groups and killed civilians amid the ongoing war in Yemen.

Morteza Rahmani, the Iranian ambassador to Japan, made the remarks Thursday during a meeting in Tokyo with Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun's President and CEO Masataka Watanabe. Commenting on growing evidence that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the alleged death of Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, the envoy said Washington would likely brush off the perceived malign activities of one of its closest allies in the region.

"Saudi Arabia is accused of killing Khashoggi in its consulate in Turkey, the country that equips and supports terrorist groups and bombs civilian and innocent women and children in Yemen but is always popular with the U.S. government," Rahmani said, according to Iran's semi-official Mehr News Agency.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh, October 16. President Donald Trump sent a top-level diplomatic delegation to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to investigate Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance, but apparently came back with no clear answers. LEAH MILLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Since the 1979 uprising that ousted the country's West-backed monarchy, revolutionary Shiite Muslim Iran has been a leading rival of the conservative Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia. The two have competed over regional influence for decades, and the kingdom officially cut ties to Iran after Iranian protesters burned down Riyadh's embassy in Tehran in reaction to the execution of a Shiite Muslim cleric in Saudi Arabia in January 2016.

Both countries have accused one another of exporting their ideologies in an effort to destabilize the region. Saudi Arabia charges Iran with supporting powerful Shiite Muslim militias with vast influence in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria—and of backing insurgencies in Bahrain and Yemen. Iran claims Saudi Arabia is behind jihadi organizations such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State militant group (ISIS).

Iran-sponsored groups such as the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces have helped to defeat ISIS, which Saudi Arabia has also contributed efforts to fight via a U.S.-led coalition. Saudi Arabia also leads its own coalition against a Zaidi Shiite Muslim groups of rebels, known as Ansar Allah or the Houthis, that took over large parts of Yemen—including the capital—in 2015.

Saudi Arabia—alongside fellow Iran foes Israel and the United States—have accused Iran of supporting the Houthis, something both parties deny. The U.S. has supported Saudi-led efforts to defeat the insurgents, despite reports that Riyadh and its Arab allies have been accused of war crimes, including the bombing of a bus full of children in August that Saudi Arabia later apologized for.

Yemeni fighters loyal to the Shiite Muslim Ansar Allah movement march in the capital Sanaa on October 16 to show support against the Saudi-led intervention in the country. After three and a half years at war, Saudi Arabia has failed to oust the Houthi rebels from the capital, but has drawn widespread accusations of causing high civilian casualties. MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

The case of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who Turkish officials have alleged was killed and dismembered within the Saudi consulate, has reignited the debate over the relationship between Washington and Riyadh. Many conservatives, including President Donald Trump's own family, have argued that ties in the face of their joint foe Iran were important than the Khashoggi investigation.

While Eric Trump conceded that "you can't have journalists getting murdered" during an interview with Fox News on Friday, he emphasized that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia were "friends" and warned his father should not "throw all of that away." Jared Kushner, Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law whose ties to the Saudi royal family lawmakers have questioned, has reportedly argued that the current scandal would pass, as have previous international incidents that thrust the two countries' relationship in the spotlight.

As pressure builds for Trump to take action, the president said Thursday that "it certainly looks" like Khashoggi is dead and promised "very severe" consequences should the kingdom be found culpable. While he did not go into detail about the sort of measures the U.S. may take, he has previously suggested that canceling an arms deal with Saudi Arabia—as other countries have done in response to civilian casualty reports in Yemen—was off the table.