Saudi Arabia's allies start scaling down ties to Iran as tensions soar

TEHRAN, Iran -- Allies of Saudi Arabia followed the kingdom's lead and on Monday began scaling down their diplomatic ties to Iran in the wake of the ransacking of Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic, violence that was sparked by the Saudis' execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

See Full Article

The tiny island kingdom of Bahrain announced it would sever its ties completely from Iran, as Saudi Arabia did late on Sunday.

Within hours, the United Arab Emirates announced it would downgrade its own diplomatic ties to Tehran, bringing them down to the level of the charge d'affaires and would from now on focus entirely on the business relationships between the two countries.

The Saudi decision to halt diplomatic relations came after its the mass execution Saturday of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others -- the largest carried out by Saudi Arabia in three and a half decades -- laid bare the sectarian divisions gripping the region. Shiite protesters took to the streets from Bahrain to Pakistan while Arab allies of Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia quickly lined up behind the kingdom.

Al-Nimr was a central figure in the Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority until his arrest in 2012. He was convicted of terrorism charges but denied advocating violence.

Bahrain enjoys particularly close relations with Saudi Arabia, which like Bahrain's leadership is suspicious of alleged Iranian efforts to destabilize the island nation, which has a tiny Shiite-majority but is Sunni-ruled. Riyadh, along with the UAE, sent tanks and troops to Bahrain in 2011 to quell widespread anti-government protests spearheaded by Bahrain's Shiite majority.

Bahraini officials have blamed Iran for training militants and attempting to smuggle arms into the country, which hosts the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet.

In October, Bahrain ordered the acting Iranian charge d'affaires to leave within 72 hours and recalled its own ambassador from Tehran after alleging Iran sponsored "subversion" and "terrorism" and funneled arms to militants.

The UAE, a country of seven emirates, has a long trading history with Iran and is home to many ethnic Iranians.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced the cut in Riyadh-Tehran relations late Sunday and gave Iranian diplomatic personnel 48 hours to leave his country. All Saudi diplomatic personnel in Iran have been called home.

The move could affect the annual hajj pilgrimage. Lawmaker Mohammad Ali Esfanani, spokesman of the Judicial and Legal Committee of the Iranian parliament, said security issues and the fact that Iranian pilgrims wouldn't have consular protection inside the kingdom made halting the pilgrimage likely, according to the semi-official ISNA news agency.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran have yet to make any formal announcement about how the diplomatic spat would affect the hajj, a pilgrimage to Islamic holy sites in Saudi Arabia required of all able-bodied Muslims once in their life. The hajj this year likely will begin in early September, though Muslims travel to the holy sites all year long as well.

"When a country has cut diplomatic relations with us, it means it is hostile with us," Esfanani said. "It appears that protection (of pilgrims) and security issues will prevent hajj from taking place."

When Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran from 1988 to 1991, Iran stopped its pilgrims from attending the hajj. Also, with Saudi diplomatic missions closed in Iran, it will make it difficult for Iranians to get visas for the hajj.

World powers have sought to calm the tensions, with a Russian state news agency on Monday quoting an unnamed senior diplomat as saying Moscow is ready to act as a mediator in the escalating conflict. The RIA Novosti news agency did not say whether Moscow had made the mediation proposal to either side.

In Washington, State Department spokesman John Kirby said the Obama administration believes "diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences."

"We will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions," Kirby said.

Earlier Sunday, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif by phone and urged Tehran to "defuse the tensions and protect the Saudi diplomats," according to a statement.

The disruption in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran may have implications for peace efforts in Syria. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and others spent significant time trying to bring the countries to the negotiating table and they both sat together at talks aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to the civil war.

Last month, Saudi Arabia convened a meeting of Syrian opposition figures that was designed to create a delegation to attend peace talks with the Syrian government that are supposed to begin in mid-January.

Meanwhile, al-Nimr's family is holding three days of mourning at a mosque in al-Awamiya village in the kingdom's al-Qatif region in predominantly Shiite eastern Saudi Arabia. The sheikh's brother, Mohammed al-Nimr, told The Associated Press that Saudi officials informed his family that the cleric had been buried in an undisclosed cemetery, a development that could lead to further protests.

Early Monday, the state-run Saudi Press Agency said a shooting targeting security forces in the village killed a man and wounded a child. It offered no motive for the attack, nor for another it said saw a mob beat and briefly kidnap a man driving through the area.

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Abdullah al-Shihri in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Malak Harb in Dubai and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Prague hotel fire kills 2, injures 8

    World News CTV News
    PRAGUE, Czech Republic -- Czech officials say a hotel fire in downtown Prague has killed at least two people and injured dozens. Prague rescue service spokeswoman Jana Postova says that eight people have been rushed to hospitals with serious injuries after the blaze broke out in the hotel Saturday evening. Source
  • Gunmen storm Intercontinental Hotel in Afghan capital Kabul

    World News CTV News
    KABUL -- An Afghan official says that a group of gunmen have attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in the capital Kabul. Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish confirmed Saturday that the hotel came under attack at around 9 p.m. Source
  • U.S. cardinal calls pope's comments on abuse victims 'a source of great pain'

    World News CTV News
    LIMA, Peru -- Pope Francis' top adviser on clerical sex abuse implicitly rebuked the pontiff over his accusations of slander against Chilean abuse victims, saying Saturday that his words were "a source of great pain for survivors of sexual abuse. Source
  • Sherman family's private investigators believe couple was murdered: report

    Canada News CTV News
    Despite earlier information suggesting a possible murder-suicide, Toronto billionaire philanthropists Barry and Honey Sherman were murdered, according to the findings of a private team of investigators hired by the family, Toronto Star’s Chief Investigative Reporter Kevin Donovan tells CTV News. Source
  • Gunmen attack Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel

    World News CBC News
    A group of as many as four gunmen attacked the Intercontinental Hotel in the Afghan capital Kabul and were exchanging fire with security forces on Saturday as residents and staff fled. Hotel manager Ahmad Haris Nayab, who managed to escape unhurt, said the attackers had managed to get inside and people were fleeing amid bursts of gunfire on all sides, but he could say nothing about any casualties. Source
  • Men's Facebook group appears to re-emerge after being taken offline

    Canada News CTV News
    Despite being taken offline Friday night, a private, men-only Facebook group that was linked to trolling attacks on several B.C. businesses appears to have re-emerged.Scroll down or click here to vote in our poll of the day The ‘Official HimPower Backup Group’ Facebook group has garnered a slew of new members since the ‘HimPower’ group was shut down after CTV News revealed that some of its 44,000+ members were sharing intimate images of women without their consent and posting offensive online…
  • Junior hockey star charged in violent break-in at Calgary professor's home

    Canada News CBC News
    A Mount Royal University student and the former captain of its hockey team has been charged in a brutal attack on an MRU professor after a break-in at her Calgary home last weekend, CBC News has learned. Originally from Truro, N.S. Source
  • Mudslides take heavy toll on immigrants serving posh town

    World News CTV News
    Oprah Winfrey and Rob Lowe give Montecito its star power, but it's people like Antonio and Victor Benitez who keep the wealthy Southern California community running. The Mexican brothers are gardeners and part of the town's working-class immigrant population, which suffered outsized losses from the recent mudslides that killed at least 20, injured dozens and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes. Source
  • Turkish jets bombard Kurdish-run city of Afrin in Syria

    World News CBC News
    Turkish jets bombed the Kurdish-controlled city of Afrin in northern Syria on Saturday, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to expand Turkey's military border operations against a Kurdish group that has been the U.S.'s key Syria ally in the war on the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Source
  • P.E.I. legion to apologize after Sikh man reportedly asked to remove headdress

    Canada News CTV News
    TIGNISH, P.E.I. - The president of a P.E.I. branch of the Royal Canadian Legion is expected to apologize after a Sikh man was reportedly asked to remove his religious head covering and heckled with racist remarks. Source