UN envoy says Saudi-Iran spat will not affect Syria process

UN envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura says Saudi Arabia determined not to allow diplomatic spat with Iran to affect Syria peace process

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

United Nations special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura talks during a joint news conference with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni in Rome, Italy December 7, 2015.

The United Nations' special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister, Adel al Jubeir, met on Tuesday amid concerns that an ongoing row between Iran and Saudi Arabia could threaten the Syrian peace process.

Mistura said after his meeting with Jubeir in Riyadh that there was a "clear determination" on the Saudi side to not allow tensions with Iran to have a negative impact on efforts to end the five-year-old conflict in Syria, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters in New York.

"Mistura added that we cannot afford to lose this momentum, despite what is going on in the region," said Dujarric. Mistura is also set to visit Iran later this week.

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran after protesters in Tehran stormed the Saudi embassy early on Sunday in response to Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Nimr al Nimr along with 46 others a day earlier.

After the incident, Saudi Arabia also ordered the Iranian diplomatic mission in Riyadh to leave the country within 48 hours.

Several other gulf and Arab states including Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Kuwait followed suit and either cut or downgraded diplomatic ties.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran were among 17 nations that participated in talks in Vienna in November, where all sides agreed to initiate a peace process to end the war in Syria, which has to date killed at least 250,000 people according to UN estimates.

The UN wants to bring together Syria's warring factions on Jan. 25 to begin peace talks in Geneva within the framework of a plan set out during three rounds of international talks to foster an end to the war.

On Dec. 18, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution calling for an UN-backed political process that would let Syrian factions form a transitional governing body in six months and to hold UN-supervised national elections within 18 months.

Jubeir also told Saudi press that the recent tensions with Iran will not affect negotiations, adding, "... the operations that the United Nations carries out alongside the international community to achieve a political solution in Geneva soon."

The latest spat between Riyadh and Tehran comes after a heated exchange of words in September when Iran criticised Saudi Arabia, accusing it of downplaying the death toll from a deadly stampede in Mecca which cost the lives of hundreds of Hajj pilgrims.

Iran and Saudi Arabia, which consider each other as regional rivals, have long been at odds over the civil wars in Yemen and Syria as they support opposing sides.

While Saudi Arabia calls on Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad to step down, Iran has been supporting his troops with commanders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, as has Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah.

Iran likewise backs Shiite Houthi militants in Yemen against the Saudi-backed government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.

TRTWorld and agencies