Iran says Saudis used embassy attack as ‘excuse’ to cut ties

Tehran accuses Riyadh of using attack on Saudi Arabian embassy in Iran by protesters demonstrating against execution of Shiite cleric as ‘excuse’ to cut diplomatic ties

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Iranian protesters chant slogans as they hold pictures of Shi'ite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr during a demonstration against the execution of Nimr in Saudi Arabia, outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran January, 3, 2016.

Saudi Arabia used an attack on its embassy in Tehran as a pretext to fuel tensions, Iran's Foreign Ministry said on Monday after Riyadh severed diplomatic relations.

Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in the early hours of Sunday after Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Nimr al Nimr early on Saturday.

Nimr, along with three other Shiites, was accused of involvement in shootings and petrol bomb attacks that killed several police officers during anti-government protests during the “Arab Spring.”

The protesters lit fires and smashed furniture in the embassy before being cleared out by the police, who made 40 arrests. No Saudi diplomats were in the embassy. Iranian officials condemned the attack as well as Nimr's execution.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al Jubeir in a news conference on Sunday said Iran's diplomatic mission and related entities in Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave after Riyadh withdrew its own diplomatic personnel from the attacked embassy.

“The kingdom, in light of these realities, announces the cutting of diplomatic relations with Iran and requests the departure of delegates of diplomatic missions of the embassy and consulate and offices related to it within 48 hours. The ambassador has been summoned to notify them,” Jubeir told the news conference.  

Iranian Foreign Ministry on Monday hit back at Riyadh’s move, saying it was committed to protecting its foreign diplomatic missions.

"Iran has acted in accordance with its (diplomatic) obligations to control the broad wave of popular emotion that arose," foreign ministry spokesman Hossein Jaberi Ansari said in televised remarks.

"Saudi Arabia benefits and thrives on prolonging tensions... (It) has used this incident as an excuse to fuel the tensions," he added, noting that the Iranian diplomats had not yet left Saudi Arabia.

On Sunday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatullah Ali Khamenei also condemned Nimr’s execution, saying “divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians.”

Shiite backlash

Riyadh has faced a backlash from Shiites around the world since carrying out the execution. At least two Sunni Muslim mosques were attacked in Iraq and two people killed in apparent retaliation against the execution on Monday.

The attack on the Ammar bin Yasir mosque in central Hilla destroyed its dome and several walls, according to a Reuters TV cameraman who visited the site. Provincial council member Falah al Khafaji and a police source said a guard inside the building had been killed.

"We saw smoke rising from the dome of the mosque. We found all the walls destroyed and the furniture inside in shambles," said resident Uday Hassan Ali.

Another mosque in Hilla's northern outskirts, Al Fath al Mubeen, was also attacked, Khafaji and the police source said.

Iraqi men hold a banner of Shiite cleric Nimr al Nimr, as they prepare to hang it in a street in Basra, southeast of Baghdad, January 3, 2016.

A local Sunni cleric was killed in a separate incident in Iskandariya, about 40 km (25 miles) south of Baghdad, they added.

"We have leads and security measures will be taken near mosques," said Khafaji, pledging to rebuild the buildings.

Prominent religious and political leaders in Iraq have called on the government to cut ties with Saudi Arabia, which reopened its Baghdad embassy last week after closing it in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

While Abadi and Iraqi Foreign Ministry have condemned Nimr's execution, they have given no indication of a more severe response.

Demonstrations to protest Nimr's execution are planned on Monday in Baghdad and southern Shiite cities, following a call by influential cleric Moqtada al Sadr.

An early gathering of demonstrators in the capital tried to pass through barbed wire into the fortified Green Zone where the Saudi embassy is located but police repelled them, a Reuters cameraman said.

International community concerned

Al Azhar, the Cairo-based seat of Sunni Muslim learning, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in Saudi Arabia, condemned the attacks on Riyadh's missions and stressed Tehran's obligation to respect the internal affairs of the kingdom.

The UAE, an ally of Saudi Arabia that is also home to hundreds of thousands of Iranians, cut the number of Iranian diplomats allowed in the country, after summoning the ambassador to protest what it called Iran's interference in Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain also announced on Monday it was cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, state news agency BNA reported.

Western powers, many of which supply billions of dollars worth of weaponry to Gulf Arab powers, tried to tamp down the tensions with Iran but also deplored the executions, as human rights groups strongly criticised Saudi Arabia's judicial process and protesters gathered outside Saudi embassies.

France urged Saudi Arabia and Iran on Monday to reduce tensions, with government spokesman Stephane Le Foll telling reporters on Monday, "We need to be vigilant about what is happening between Saudi Arabia and Iran."

Germany also said it was deeply concerned about the execution and added that the death penalty is an inhumane form of punishment.

"The execution of Nimr al Nimr strengthens our existing concerns about increasing tensions and deepening rifts in the region," a German Foreign Ministry official said.

Meanwhile, Russian news agencies citing an anonymous foreign ministry source reported that Russia is ready to act as an intermediary to help settle the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"As friends we would be ready to play, if it is demanded, an intermediary role in ... settling the existing contradictions and any new ones that arise between these two countries," RIA cited the source as saying.

"We express sincere regrets over the escalation of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran because we believe these two large Muslim countries are very influential in the region, on the global arena and on the oil market," the source added.

The source further said that this latest spat between the two countries should not interfere with their participation in the Vienna process to end the war in Syria.

Oil prices up due to tensions

Oil prices surged during the start of 2016 trading as relations between top crude producers Saudi Arabia and Iran deteriorated, raising concerns about potential supply disruptions, though weak Asian manufacturing data kept a lid on bullish expectations.

Oil traders said the crisis between Saudi Arabia, also the world's second-largest oil producer, and Iran, which holds some of the largest proven oil reserves, was pushing up prices.

The clash between the two Middle Eastern rivals also comes as Iran hopes to ramp up oil exports following the expected removal of sanctions against it after reaching a deal over its alleged nuclear weapons development program.

"With increased geopolitical tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the market has put a premium on prices just when markets opened (in 2016)," brokerage Phillip Futures said on Monday.

The tension between the two countries was already high since they have been backing different sides in Yemen and Syria wars.

TRTWorld, Reuters