Saudi Arabia to halt flights, trade with Iran - minister

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RIYADH, Jan 4 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia widened its rift with Iran on Monday, saying it would end air traffic and trade links with the Islamic republic and demanding that Tehran must "act like a normal country" before it would restore severed diplomatic relations.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters in an interview that Tehran was responsible for rising tensions after the kingdom executed Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday, describing him as a terrorist.

See photos of recent protests in the region over the dispute:

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Saudi Arabia to halt flights, trade with Iran - minister
Iranian protesters set fire to the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016. Nimr was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in Saudi Arabia's east, an oil-rich region where the Shiite minority of an estimated two million people complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE / AFP / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016. Nimr was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in Saudi Arabia's east, an oil-rich region where the Shiite minority of an estimated two million people complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE / AFP / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016. Nimr was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in Saudi Arabia's east, an oil-rich region where the Shiite minority of an estimated two million people complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE / AFP / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016. Nimr was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in Saudi Arabia's east, an oil-rich region where the Shiite minority of an estimated two million people complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE / AFP / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian protesters gather outside the Saudi Embassy in Tehran during a demonstration against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities, on January 2, 2016. Nimr was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in Saudi Arabia's east, an oil-rich region where the Shiite minority of an estimated two million people complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO / ATTA KENARE / AFP / ATTA KENARE (Photo credit should read ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian security stand guard to protect Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, Iran, while a group of demonstrators gathered to protest execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian security stand guard to protect Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, Iran, while a group of demonstrators gathered to protest execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian security stand guard to protect Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, Iran, while a group of demonstrators gathered to protest execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Iranian security stand guard to protect Saudi Arabia's embassy in Tehran, Iran, while a group of demonstrators gathered to protest execution of a Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Bahraini anti-government protesters carry a palm tree trunk to block a street from police during a demonstration against Saudi Arabia's execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, in Daih, Bahrain, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Saudi Arabia announced Saturday it had executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges, including al-Qaida detainees and al-Nimr, who rallied protests against the Saudi government. The execution of al-Nimr is expected to deepen discontent among Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority and heighten sectarian tensions across the region. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
A Bahraini anti-government protester holds up a picture of Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, whose execution in Saudi Arabia was announced Saturday, during a peaceful demonstration in Daih, Bahrain, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016. Saudi Arabia announced Saturday it had executed 47 prisoners convicted of terrorism charges, including al-Qaida detainees and al-Nimr, who rallied protests against the Saudi government. The execution of al-Nimr is expected to deepen discontent among Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority and heighten sectarian tensions across the region. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)
A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim shouts slogans as police stop them during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim and a policeman argue during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A Kashmiri Shiite Muslim throws stones on Indian policemen during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
An Indian police officer fires tear smoke shell on Shiite Muslim protestors as they protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
Kashmiri Shiite Muslim protestors take cover as a tear smoke shell explodes during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
Kashmiri Shiite Muslim protestors throw stones on Indian policemen during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A tear smoke shell explodes near Kashmiri Shiite Muslim protestors during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
Indian policemen beat Kashmiri Shiite Muslim protestors during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A young Kashmiri Shiite Muslim boy is lifted by others as they shout slogans during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
Kashmiri Shiite Muslim protestors take cover as a tear smoke shell explodes during a protest against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
Indian policemen clear blockades on a road during a protest by Shiite Muslims against Saudi Arabia in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. Indian police used tear smoke and rubber bullets to disperse Shiite Muslims who were protesting after Saudi Arabia announced the execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on Saturday along with 46 others, including three other Shiite dissidents and a number of al-Qaida militants. (AP Photo/Mukhtar Khan)
A plain clothes Indian security official walks past burning material set light by Kashmiri Shiite protesters during a demonstration in Srinagar on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia on January 2, executed 47 people convicted of 'terrorism', including a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests, the interior ministry said. The cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east, where the Shiite minority complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Kashmiri Shiite protesters shout slogans as they run from teargas smoke during a demonstration in Srinagar on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia on January 2, executed 47 people convicted of 'terrorism', including a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests, the interior ministry said. The cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east, where the Shiite minority complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
A Kashmiri Shiite protesters kicks a smoking teargas shell during a demonstration in Srinagar on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia on January 2, executed 47 people convicted of 'terrorism', including a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests, the interior ministry said. The cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east, where the Shiite minority complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri Shiite protesters take cover as a teargas shell explodes during a demonstration in Srinagar on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia on January 2, executed 47 people convicted of 'terrorism', including a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests, the interior ministry said. The cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east, where the Shiite minority complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri Shiite protesters shout slogans as teargas clouds hang in the air during a demonstration in Srinagar on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia on January 2, executed 47 people convicted of 'terrorism', including a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests, the interior ministry said. The cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east, where the Shiite minority complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
An Iraqi policeman mans a checkpoint next to a poster mourning prominent Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in Saudi Arabia the day before, in the capital Baghdad on January 3, 2016. The execution of prominent Saudi Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr is an 'aggression', Iraq's top Shiite authority Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said in a statement. AFP PHOTO / SABAH ARAR / AFP / SABAH ARAR (Photo credit should read SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Kashmiri Shiite protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Srinagar on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia on January 2, executed 47 people convicted of 'terrorism', including a prominent Shiite cleric behind anti-government protests, the interior ministry said. The cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, was a driving force of the protests that broke out in 2011 in the Sunni-ruled kingdom's east, where the Shiite minority complains of marginalisation. AFP PHOTO/Tauseef MUSTAFA / AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA (Photo credit should read TAUSEEF MUSTAFA/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani Shiite Muslims march during a protest in Islamabad on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia's execution of a leading Shiite cleric reflects an assertive but risky new approach that threatens to escalate its proxy wars with arch-rival Iran in Syria and Yemen, experts said. AFP PHOTO / Farooq NAEEM / AFP / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani Shiite Muslims march during a protest in Islamabad on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia's execution of a leading Shiite cleric reflects an assertive but risky new approach that threatens to escalate its proxy wars with arch-rival Iran in Syria and Yemen, experts said. AFP PHOTO / Farooq NAEEM / AFP / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani Shiite Muslims march during a protest in Islamabad on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia's execution of a leading Shiite cleric reflects an assertive but risky new approach that threatens to escalate its proxy wars with arch-rival Iran in Syria and Yemen, experts said. AFP PHOTO / Farooq NAEEM / AFP / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
Pakistani Shiite Muslims march during a protest in Islamabad on January 3, 2016, against the execution of prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities. Saudi Arabia's execution of a leading Shiite cleric reflects an assertive but risky new approach that threatens to escalate its proxy wars with arch-rival Iran in Syria and Yemen, experts said. AFP PHOTO / Farooq NAEEM / AFP / FAROOQ NAEEM (Photo credit should read FAROOQ NAEEM/AFP/Getty Images)
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Insisting Riyadh would react to "Iranian aggression," Jubeir accused Tehran of despatching fighters to Arab countries and plotting attacks inside the kingdom and its Gulf neighbors.

"There is no escalation on the part of Saudi Arabia. Our moves are all reactive. It is the Iranians who went into Lebanon. It is the Iranians who sent their Qods Force and their Revolutionary Guards into Syria," he said.

The execution of Nimr provoked protests among Shi'ites across the region and Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran, setting fires and causing damage, prompting Riyadh to cut ties and inflaming an already heated rivalry.

Iranian pilgrims would still be welcome to visit Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina in western Saudi Arabia, either for the annual haj or at other times of year on the umrah pilgrimage, he said.

However, Jubeir said Saudi Arabia had been right to execute Nimr, whom he accused of "agitating, organizing cells, providing them with weapons and money." After listing the crimes of 43 al Qaeda members also put to death on Saturday alongside four Shi'ites, Jubeir said of the executions: "We should be applauded for this, not criticized." (Editing by William Maclean and David Stamp)

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