Boris Johnson has accused British ally Saudi Arabia of "playing proxy wars" in the Middle East.
Footage has emerged of the Foreign Secretary lumping the state in with Iran when he raised concerns about "puppeteering" in the region.
Mr Johnson was addressing a conference in Rome when he talked of politicians "twisting and abusing religion" to further their political aims.
The video, published by The Guardian, from the Med 2 event last week comes as Prime Minister Theresa May arrives back from a visit to the Gulf where she attended a dinner with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
Mr Johnson said: "There are politicians who are twisting and abusing religion and different strains of the same religion in order to further their own political objectives. That's one of the biggest political problems in the whole region.
"And the tragedy for me – and that's why you have these proxy wars being fought the whole time in that area – is that there is not strong enough leadership in the countries themselves."
The Foreign Secretary said there were not enough "big characters" in the region who were willing to "reach out beyond their Sunni or Shia" group.
He told the conference: "That's why you've got the Saudis, Iran, everybody, moving in and puppeteering and playing proxy wars."
A Foreign Office spokesman said: "As the Foreign Secretary made very clear on Sunday, we are allies with Saudi Arabia and support them in their efforts to secure their borders and protect their people. Any suggestion to the contrary is wrong and misinterpreting the facts."