Saudi Arabia to halt flights, trade with Iran - minister

Will Saudi-Iran Standoff Hit Oil Prices?

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)
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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