Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Kuwait recalls ambassador from Iran as Saudi executions crisis widens

Kuwait has become the latest country to downgrade its relations with Iran after recalling its ambassador, in a widening regional crisis over the execution of a Saudi Shia cleric and the ensuing attack on the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Sudan have already severed diplomatic ties with Iran, while the United Arab Emirates has recalled its envoy.

Late on Monday, Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the United Nations said the row with Iran would not affect peace talks aimed at resolving the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has claimed over a quarter of a million lives in almost five years of conflict.

Read more>> Saudi Arabia cuts diplomatic ties with Iran after execution of cleric

“We will attend the next Syria talks and we’re not going to boycott them because of Iran or anybody else for that matter,” said Abdullah al-Moallimi. “If we decide to boycott them it will have to be for a better reason than that.”

The two regional rivals are embroiled in a diplomatic spat sparked by Riyadh’s execution of Nimr al-Nimr, a Saudi cleric who encouraged demonstrations against the monarchy in the country’s Shia eastern province in the wake of the Arab spring uprisings. The killing inspired protests in Shia-majority areas in the Middle East and south Asia as well, and attacks on Sunni mosques in Iraq.

Iranian protesters attacked the kingdom’s embassy in Tehran, and Saudi Arabia retaliated by severing diplomatic relations, ordering Iranian diplomats to leave the country and ending commercial ties with the Islamic republic, as well as halting flights between the two countries.

The UN security council on Monday night strongly condemned the attack on the embassy, and urged the Iranian government “to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel”, while calling on both sides to reduce tensions.

 The Saudi execution will reverberate across the Muslim world
Brian Whitaker
 Read more
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to distract attention from the executions by creating a diplomatic crisis. 

“The Saudi government, in order to cover up its crime of beheading a religious leader, has resorted to a strange measure of severing its ties with the Islamic Republic,” Rouhani told the Danish foreign minister, Kristian Jensen, who was on a visit to Tehran. 

“Such moves will never hide that great crime. Criticism should not be responded to with beheading,” Rouhani said. “We hope that European countries, which always react to issues of human rights, would act on their human rights-related obligations in this case, too.”

The storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, carried out by a hardline faction, has hugely embarrassed Rouhani’s moderate administration, which is in the process of reintegrating into the international community following the landmark nuclear agreement with the west last summer.

Analysis Iran scores own goal in wake of Saudi Arabia executions
Hardliners who set ablaze the Saudi embassy in Tehran in response to the execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr have done Iran no favours

That attack has been widely condemned in Iran even by its most senior officials and interpreted as an own goal as it shifted focus from the Saudi executions of 47 people in a single day to an ongoing diplomatic crisis involving Iran.

Moreover, the crisis has come at a critical time for Rouhani, who has locked horns with hardliners in the runup to parliamentary elections in February. Rouhani’s internal opponents, who are angry about his success with the nuclear accord, are trying to undermine his influence at home, and some analysts view the embassy attack and the subsequent diplomatic row as an attempt by hardliners to also hit back at his administration. 

Saudi Arabia and Iran are locked in a regional struggle that has seen them back opposing sides in civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Peace talks between the Saudi-backed government in Yemen and Houthi rebels who overthrew it failed to even secure a brief ceasefire last month, and observers say the latest crisis may threaten scheduled peace talks in Geneva between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Iran strongly backs the government of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, while Saudi Arabia has called for his removal from power and backed rebel groups battling to overthrow him.

“We’ve got a very difficult situation that we’re trying to navigate in terms of reaching a political resolution for the situation inside of Syria,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a press briefing on Monday. “It’s very difficult to get everybody around the table, and certainly it’s going to be even more difficult to get everybody back around the table if you have the Saudis and the Iranians trading public barbs and public expressions of antagonism.”

Iran has not yet made any public comment on whether it still intends to participate in the scheduled peace talks later in January. The latest spat is the latest in a long line of grievances and public admonishments between the two regional powers, who have traded accusations of destabilising other nations in the Middle East and supporting terrorism.



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