Geopolitical tensions in the Middle East remain on edge after Saudi Arabia halted trade and travel ties with Iran along with cutting diplomatic ties on Monday.
Saudi Arabia decided to sever ties with Iran on Sunday following the burning and ransacking of their embassy in Tehran after 47 people were executed a day earlier on terrorist charges in Saudi Arabia, including a dissident Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, who was revered in Iran and spoke out against the Saudi royal family and Saudi Arabia.
The other 46 who were executed included al-Qaeda members, according to a press statement read aloud on Saudi state T.V.
The mass execution on Saturday was the second largest mass execution by the Saudi Kingdom, since the 1980 killing of 63 rebels, who seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized the Saudi Kingdom and spoke about divine retribution about Saudi leaders, “The unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians.”
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al -Juber told reporters on Sunday that the Iranian ambassador was given 48 hours to leave Saudi Arabia and voiced concerns that Tehran was undermining security in the region.
On Monday two other countries, Bahrain and Sudan, also cut off ties with Iran.
“Bahrain decided to break off diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran and calls upon all members of the mission to leave the kingdom within 48 hours,” Bahrain state news agency BNA reported on Monday.
Shiite-majority Iran is a large regional rival of Sunni majority Saudi Arabia, and stands accused by the Saudis of meddling in Yemen which borders Saudi Arabia while exerting Shiite influence in other areas of the Middle East including Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria where a proxy civil war involving multiple world powers has raged since 2011 and spawned the rise of ISIS in the region.
On Monday China and Russia released statements calling for restraint between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Spokesman John Kirby spoke addressed the Iranian-Saudi conflict on Monday during a press conference.
Spokesman Kirby explained that the U.S. voiced concerns about the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and also condemned the attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
“Regarding the executions in Saudi Arabia, we continue to urge the Government of Saudi Arabia to ensure fair and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases. And we have expressed our particular concern over the execution of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. We also condemn the attacks on Saudi diplomatic properties in Iran” Kirby said.
When questioned about the reason that Washington is not playing a role reducing tensions in the conflict, Kirby said that local leadership needs to play a major role de-escalating tensions.
“And we want to see local leadership step up and to make the right decisions moving forward – to look for ways to de-escalate the tensions, look for ways to engage, look for ways to solve these problems peacefully. And while we certainly want to foster that engagement, I don’t think it’s – I think you can all understand that it – that real, long-term, sustainable answers aren’t going to be legislated from Washington, D.C.” Kirby said.
During a readout call yesterday, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged both foreign ministers to avoid any actions that could further exacerbate the situation between two countries and in the region as a whole.
He also stressed the importance of continued constructive engagement by both countries for the interest of the region and beyond.