Saudi Arabia cuts diplomatic ties with Iran after execution of cleric


Source: The Guardian

Saudi Arabia has cut diplomatic relations with Iran in a sharp escalation of tensions between the two regional foes following the execution of the Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

The Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, told a news conference that Iran’s diplomatic mission and related entities in Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave. He said Riyadh would not allow the Islamic republic to undermine the Sunni kingdom’s security.

The move on Sunday evening came after two days of outrage among Shia communities across the Middle East and in south Asia at the death of Nimr, a prominent critic of the Saudi and Bahraini monarchies, whose cause as a prisoner since 2012 had been championed by Tehran and the United Nations. It signals a further hardening of Riyadh’s position towards Iran, with which it is locked in a bitter battle for regional influence.

Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday accused Saudi Arabia of stoking regional tension. A spokesman said: “Saudi Arabia sees not only its interests but also its existence in pursuing crises and confrontations and attempts to resolve its internal problems by exporting them to the outside.”

Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, on Sunday said that by cutting diplomatic ties Riyadh could not cover up “its major mistake of executing Sheikh Nimr”.

The US, Saudi Arabia’s biggest backer in the west, responded to the cutting of ties by encouraging diplomatic engagement and calling for leaders in the region to take “affirmative steps” to reduce tensions.

“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions,” an official of Barack Obama’s administration said.

Muslim leaders stepped up their condemnation of the execution of Nimr at the weekend, urging a robust response from Riyadh’s western backers, as protests spread to Pakistan and Indian Kashmir.

Anger remained palpable on the streets of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and in Bahrain and Baghdad, hours after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was set ablaze by protesters angered by the execution of the senior cleric. Small protests were also held in Islamabad and Quetta, home to members of Pakistan’s Shia minority.

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