Europe

UK government distances itself from Saudi 'proxy war' claims

  • British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, center, takes his seat during a round table meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at foreign ministers level at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

    British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, center, takes his seat during a round table meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at foreign ministers level at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)  (The Associated Press)

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second left, speaks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, left, while British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, right, waits during a meeting on the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday will discuss closer EU-NATO cooperation. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, second left, speaks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, left, while British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, right, waits during a meeting on the sidelines of a NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday will discuss closer EU-NATO cooperation. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)  (The Associated Press)

Britain's foreign secretary has claimed that U.K. ally Saudi Arabia was engaging in "proxy wars" in the Middle East — comments that Prime Minister Theresa May say do not represent Britain's position.

The Guardian on Thursday published footage of Boris Johnson speaking during a conference last week. He said there was no strong leadership in the Middle East willing to reach out beyond the Sunni-Shia divide, and "that's why you've got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars."

Downing Street was quick to distance itself from the comments, which were unusual because officials rarely, if ever, criticize allies in public. May's spokeswoman Helen Bower said they are Johnson's own views and do not reflect Britain's policy on Saudi Arabia and its role in the region.