Stop working against Iran, Teheran warns Riyadh

Pakistani supporters of Rah-e-Haq religious party in Peshawar burning an effigy representing Iran, Israel and the US at a rally on Tuesday in favour of Saudi Arabia's execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Pakistani supporters of Rah-e-Haq religious party in Peshawar burning an effigy representing Iran, Israel and the US at a rally on Tuesday in favour of Saudi Arabia's execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

UN, Western powers urge calm amid fears that sectarian tension will destabilise region

TEHERAN • Iran yesterday warned Saudi Arabia to stop working against it as their diplomatic crisis intensified despite efforts to defuse a row that has raised fears of regional instability.

In the latest salvo in a dispute that has seen Saudi Arabia and some of its Sunni Arab allies cut ties with Teheran, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Riyadh must end its prolonged efforts to confront Iran.

"For the past 21/2 years, Saudi Arabia has opposed Iran's diplomacy," Mr Zarif said at a joint press conference in Teheran with Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

"Saudi Arabia has moved against our efforts and, unfortunately, they opposed the nuclear agreement," Mr Zarif said. "This trend of creating tension must stop. We need to stand united... and stop those who are adding fuel to the fire."

  • Divided media

  • The Middle Eastern press is taking sides in the Saudi-Iran spat largely based on sectarian lines, the BBC reported. Dailies in the Sunni-dominated Gulf, Jordan and Egypt condemn Iran's "aggressive attitude" in response to Saudi Arabia's execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr. Papers in Shi'ite-ruled Syria, Iraq and Lebanon describe Sheikh Nimr's execution as a "crime".


    Al-Ahram, Egypt

    "We stand by... Saudi Arabia in its confrontation with Iran… We reject Iran's detestable foreign interference in Saudi internal affairs."

    Al-Rayah, Qatar

    "The storming of the Saudi embassy in Teheran is a criminal act that is totally rejected. The Iranian government should... realise that these acts violate international conventions."

    Jordan's Al-Rai, suggesting the embassy attack is part of manoeuvring around upcoming Iranian elections.

    "Hardliner elements are preparing for the election battle and they need a big cause to fight for, through using demonstrations."


    Al-Sabah, Iraq

    "Executing Al-Nimr will backfire. And this is the last thing we wanted."

    Al-Adalah, Iraq

    "The execution of Al-Nimr will not help calm down the situation in the kingdom… This will lead to violent actions that will be followed by more oppression."

    Al-Thawrah, Syria

    "The regime of Al Saud (Saudi ruling family) violates all human rights, curbs freedom of expression and personal freedoms, and uses methods of execution that date back to the Middle Ages."

    Al-Safir, Lebanon

    "The Saudi human rights record is characterised by brutality. This is a kingdom that lives through oppression… This is the kingdom of darkness."

Tensions rose after Iran last year secured a historic nuclear deal with world powers led by the United States, causing major concern in long-time US ally Saudi Arabia.

The row between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf's main Sunni power, and Shi'ite-dominated Iran erupted following Riyadh's execution last Saturday of prominent Shi'ite cleric and activist Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.

His death sparked Shi'ite demonstrations in many countries including Iran, where protesters stormed and set fire to the Saudi embassy in Teheran and the kingdom's consulate in second city Mashhad.

Riyadh cut ties with Teheran in response, a move followed by several of its Sunni Arab allies including Bahrain and Sudan. The United Arab Emirates downgraded ties with Iran, and Kuwait recalled its ambassador. The row has raised fears of rising sectarian tensions in the Middle East that could derail efforts to resolve pressing issues including the wars in Syria and Yemen.

The United Nations and Western governments have expressed deep concern, urging both sides in the conflict to reduce tensions.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has made repeated calls to both Iranian and Saudi leaders. "He is urging calm. He is stressing the need for dialogue and engagement, and thirdly, reminding that, again, there's lots of work to be done in the region," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in Washington on Tuesday.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has also been in touch with Saudi and Iranian leaders to urge calm, and the Security Council has condemned the attack on Riyadh's diplomatic missions.

Cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Iran is crucial in resolving a range of issues in the Middle East, where they are often on opposing sides.

In Syria, Iran is supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad against rebel groups, some backed by Saudi Arabia.

In Yemen, Saudi Arabia is leading a military intervention against Iran-backed Shi'ite rebels who have seized control of large parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has threatened to destroy Saudi Arabian prisons holding militants after Riyadh's execution of 47 people including 43 convicted Al-Qaeda terrorists.

ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for attacks in the kingdom and stepped up operations in neighbouring Yemen, singled out the al-Ha'ir and Tarfiya prisons where many Al-Qaeda and ISIS supporters have been detained.

ISIS "always seeks to free prisoners, but we calculate that the ending of the issues of prisoners will not happen except with the eradication of the rule of tyrants, and then destroying their prisons and razing them to the ground", the extremist group said in an article posted online on Tuesday.

Saudi Arabia has declared Al-Qaeda and ISIS to be terrorist groups and locked up thousands of their supporters.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 07, 2016, with the headline 'Stop working against Iran, Teheran warns Riyadh'. Print Edition | Subscribe