3 Sunni-Led States Join Saudi Arabia’s Diplomatic Feud Against Iran
Three Sunni-led countries joined Saudi Arabia on Monday in severing or downgrading diplomatic ties with Iran, worsening a geopolitical conflict with sectarian dimensions in one of the world’s most volatile regions. The diplomatic protests from the three countries — Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates — came as Iran accused Saudi Arabia of using an attack on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran two days earlier as a pretext for diverting attention from its problems. Iranian protesters ransacked and set fire to the embassy on Saturday, along with the Saudi Consulate in Iran’s second-largest city, Mashhad, after the Saudis executed a Shiite cleric who had criticized the Sunni kingdom’s treatment of its Shiite minority. The Shiite cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, was among 47 people who were executed.
The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, spoke by phone on Monday with the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and Iran, condemning both execution as well as the attack on the embassy. Mr. Ban — who has repeatedly urged the two countries to cooperate on regional conflicts, especially on Syria — called the break in Saudi-Iranian relations “deeply worrying.”
The cutting of ties comes just weeks after a groundbreaking series of talks that brought rival powers to the table to discuss a road map for peace in Syria. In New York in December, the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers sat directly across from each other for several hours at a high-level meeting led by the United States and Russia.
The announcements on Monday by the three allies of Saudi Arabia added to the fraught atmosphere in the region. Relations between Shiite Iran and Bahrain, a Shiite-majority island nation ruled by a Sunni monarchy, were already poor, with Bahrain having accused Iran of meddling in its internal affairs by backing various Shiite opposition groups since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. In October, after accusing Iran of shipping weapons to the island, Bahrain recalled its ambassador in Tehran and expelled the Iranian chargé d’affaires in its capital, Manama.
In a statement on Monday, Bahrain said the attack on the embassy and consulate in Iran occurred “without the slightest regard for values, the law or morality” and “confirms a determination to spread devastation and destruction, and provoke unrest and strife in the region by providing protection and support for terrorists and extremists and the smuggling of weapons and explosives for use by its affiliated terrorist cells.” Advertisement Continue reading the main story Sudan on Monday expelled the Iranian ambassador in Khartoum, its capital, to protest the attack on the embassy, the Iranian news agency Fars reported. The United Arab Emirates, which had already formally protested the embassy attack, on Monday downgraded its ties by recalling its ambassador to Tehran and ordering a reduction in the number of Iranian diplomats stationed in the country. “This exceptional step has been taken in the light of Iran’s continuous interference in the internal affairs of Gulf and Arab states, which has reached unprecedented levels,” the United Arab Emirates’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
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