Riyadh-Teheran diplomatic crisis worsens

(Left) Iraqi protesters burning an effigy of a member of the Saudi ruling family during a demonstration in Baghdad on Monday against Saudi Arabia's execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. (Above) In Bahrain, a woman holding a poster of Nimr during
(Above) Iraqi protesters burning an effigy of a member of the Saudi ruling family during a demonstration in Baghdad on Monday against Saudi Arabia's execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Left) Iraqi protesters burning an effigy of a member of the Saudi ruling family during a demonstration in Baghdad on Monday against Saudi Arabia's execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. (Above) In Bahrain, a woman holding a poster of Nimr during
(Above) In Bahrain, a woman holding a poster of Nimr during a protest on Monday in Daih village, west of the capital Manama. The Bahrain government, however, has severed ties with Iran in protest against attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Teheran last Saturday.PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Kuwait is latest Gulf Arab state to recall envoy from Iran; crisis sparks instability fears

KUWAIT CITY/DUBAI* Kuwait has recalled its ambassador from Iran, while around 150 direct flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been halted as a diplomatic crisis between the two countries widened.

Tensions between Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, and Shi'ite-dominated Iran have erupted this week into a full-blown diplomatic crisis, sparking widespread worries of regional instability.

Kuwait yesterday became the latest Gulf Arab state to recall its ambassador from Iran in protest against attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Teheran last Saturday after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent Shi'ite cleric.

Kuwait's Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled al-Jarallah said the emirate also summoned Iran's ambassador to hand him a memorandum that condemned the attacks and called on Iran to ''respect its international obligations'', according to the official KUNA news agency. He expressed Kuwait's support for Saudi Arabia in the measures it is taking to safeguard its security.

However, the emirate did not expel the envoy or downgrade the level of diplomatic relations with Iran.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani remained defiant yesterday, saying Saudi Arabia cannot hide ''its crime'' of executing a Shi'ite Muslim cleric by cutting ties with Teheran.

The announcement comes after Saudi Arabia and Bahrain severed ties with Iran this week. The United Arab Emirates has recalled its ambassador and downgraded ties with the Islamic republicTeheran.

Late yesterday, Bahrain said it was also stopping all flights to and from Iran, the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV and Bahrain News Agency said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Reuters in an interview on Monday that it had halted trade and flights with Iran. Sources yesterday said some 150 direct flights between Iran and Saudi Arabia, carrying thousands of pilgrims every month, have been halted. Other sources said Riyadh had closed Iran's haj office in the kingdom.

Jahan Destinations, the general sales agent for Iran's Mahan Air, said there were no direct flights any more from Iran to Saudi Arabia, but pilgrims or other passengers could take connecting flights with carriers such as Emirates.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani remained defiant yesterday, saying Saudi Arabia cannot hide ''its crime'' of executing the Shi'ite cleric by cutting ties with Teheran. He warned that discord could affect the fight against terrorism.

Riyadh executed Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent critic of Saudi policy, three other Shi'ites and 43 Sunni Al-Qaeda extremists last Saturday, triggering the embassy storming in Teheran as well as protests by Shi'ite Muslims elsewhere, including in Iraq and India.

Washington and other Western powers have called for calm amid fears the dispute could raise sectarian tensions across the Middle East and derail efforts to resolve conflicts from Syria to Yemen.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2016, with the headline 'Riyadh-Teheran diplomatic crisis worsens'. Print Edition | Subscribe