Iran's Supreme Leader claims Isil created by 'wicked British'
Western plot to weaken the Middle East by creating sectarian divisions has spawned the Islamist threat, says Iran
Britain stands accused of creating the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) as a tool to undermine and destroy anti-Western governments, Iran's Supreme Leader has declared.
Slamming the "wicked British", Ayatollah Ali Khamenei used his first major speech in a month to claim Isil was being used against Iran and other Middle Eastern regimes.
In a blow to hopes that the Supreme Leader had softened his suspicion of Britain, Ayatollah Khamenei said the West wanted to promote sectarian divisions in the region.
"The evil Britain has created the [Isil] and al Qaeda to confront the Islamic republic and the Islamic awakening," he said. "America, Zionism, and especially the veteran expert of spreading divisions – the wicked government of Britain – have sharply increased their efforts of creating divisions between the Sunnis and Shia."
The speech, marking a Shia Muslim religious holiday, was posted on his website, where he has also published video footage showing his recovery from recent surgery.
The comments came as Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, was quoted demanding Iran pull back from conflicts and civil wars in Sunni-dominated countries.
"Our reservations are about Iran's policy in the region, not about Iran as a country or people," the foreign minister said at a joint press conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah with Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
"In many conflicts, Iran is part of the problem, not the solution," Prince Saud said, charging that Shia-dominated Iran had forces in Syria "fighting Syrians".
Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-ruled Gulf states have supported rebel groups which have been battling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad since March 2011 in a war which has killed more than 180,000 people.
Iran denies having sent fighters but there has been a tacit acknowledgement that Mr Assad receives financial and military aid from Tehran.
"If Iran wants to be part of the solution in Syria, it has to pull its forces from Syria. The same applies elsewhere, whether in Yemen or Iraq," said Prince Saud.
For his part, Khamenei accused the US and Britain of using the action against Isil to divide and control neighbouring states.
"A careful and analytic look at the developments reveals that the US and its allies, in efforts that are falsely termed countering [Isil], seek to create division and enmity among the Muslims rather to destroy the root causes of that (terrorist) current," Khamenei said.
"Shias and Sunnis must know that any action or remark, including insulting one another, leads to increased sensitivities and ignite flames. This will certainly benefit the common enemy of all Muslims."
A thaw in British-Iranian relations had appeared to have been set in train when Iran's president Hassan Rouhani met David Cameron at the UN in New York in September but hardliners have since mounted a campaign against the prospect of the British embassy in Tehran reopening.
The embassy in Tehran was closed in 2011 after it was stormed by a mob and while the foreign office announced it had secured agreement to return to Iran in June, the compound has yet to open its doors.