January 13, 2016 / 2:06 PM / 2 years ago

Iran scorns 'nouveau-riche' critics after UAE tweet

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif gestures as he attends a joint news conference with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier (not seen) in Tehran October 17, 2015.Raheb Homavandi/TIMA

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's foreign minister said on Wednesday that the "arrogant nouveau-riche" should stay out of diplomacy after the United Arab Emirates mocked his criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record.

The barbed comments on Twitter by Mohammad Javad Zarif and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan underline the strains between the two Gulf countries, who are economic partners but political rivals.

The United Arab Emirates has strongly backed Saudi Arabia in a diplomatic dispute with Tehran that erupted when Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shi'ite cleric on Jan. 2 and Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Iran. Riyadh broke off relations with Tehran, and the UAE downgraded ties.

On Sunday, Zarif published an editorial in the New York Times titled "Saudi Arabia's Reckless Extremism", deploring the kingdom's human rights record and accusing Riyadh of supporting extremism and "sectarian hatred".

Iran also faces criticism from rights groups and Western governments over its human rights record and its support for militant groups in the Middle East.

Sheikh Abdullah responded to Zarif's article the next day. "When I read the Iranian foreign minister's article in the New York Times, I thought the author was the foreign minister of a Scandinavian country," he tweeted in Arabic to 2.5 million followers, signing off with an grinning emoji.

"Diplomacy is the domain of the mature; not arrogant nouveau-riche," Zarif shot back on Wednesday.

He did not mention the UAE directly, but commentators quickly identified his likely target. Iran is proud of its centuries-old civilization and historic power, in contrast to some of its Gulf Arab neighbors which leapt from obscurity into oil-fueled opulence in a few recent decades.

The UAE has closely supported Saudi Arabia over the past year, as Riyadh has adopted a more active foreign policy aimed at checking what it perceives as Iranian interference in the affairs of Arab countries.

Emirati forces are playing a prominent role in a Saudi-led coalition waging war in Yemen against the Houthi group, which the coalition sees as an Iranian proxy.

But the UAE, a federation of seven emirates dominated by the capital Abu Dhabi and the commercial hub Dubai, is also home to approximately 400,000 Iranians, and is a major hub for Iran's global trade.

With its close business and trade ties to Tehran, analysts expect the UAE economy, particularly in Dubai, to benefit when international sanctions against Iran are lifted under the terms of a nuclear deal.

Reporting by Sam Wilkin; Editing by Dominic Evans

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