Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Allies follow Saudis in cutting ties with Iran amid tensions

Published:Tuesday | January 5, 2016 | 1:00 AM
Iraqi Shiite protesters chant slogans against the Saudi government as they hold posters showing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in Saudi Arabia last week, during a demonstration in Najaf, 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Baghdad, Iraq,yesterday. Demonstrations against the al-Nimr execution and Saudi Arabia were also being called for in the predominantly Shiite southern cities yesterday. (AP Photo)

Dubai (AP):

Allies of Saudi Arabia followed the kingdom's lead on Monday and scaled back diplomatic ties to Iran after the ransacking of Saudi diplomatic missions in the Islamic Republic - violence sparked by the Saudi execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Sudan and the tiny island kingdom of Bahrain said they would sever ties with Iran, as Saudi Arabia did late Sunday. Within hours, the United Arab Emirates announced it would downgrade ties to Tehran to the level of the chargÈ d'affaires, while other nations issued statements criticising Iran.

The concerted campaign by Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia highlights the aggressive stance King Salman and his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have adopted in confronting Iran, a long-time regional rival.

"What we have seen during the last 24 hours is unprecedented ... . It shows you Saudi Arabia has had enough of Iran and wants

to send a message," said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a political science professor at Emirates University. "This is the Saudis saying: 'There is no limit to how far we will go.'"

The stand-off began Saturday, when Saudi Arabia executed Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others convicted of terror charges the largest mass execution carried out by the kingdom since 1980.

Al-Nimr was a central figure in the Arab Spring-inspired protests by Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority, who long denied advocating violence. News of his execution has sparked Shiite protests from Bahrain to Pakistan.

In Iran, protesters attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad. By late Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir announced the kingdom would sever its relations with Iran over the assaults, giving Iranian diplomatic personnel 48 hours to leave his country.

Yesterday, Saudi Arabia's civil aviation authority suspended all flights to and from Iran, saying the move was based on the kingdom's cutting of diplomatic ties.

Iran expressed "regret" over the attacks on the diplomatic missions in a letter to the United Nations yesterday and vowed to arrest those responsible. In the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Iran's UN envoy, Gholamali Khoshroo, says more than 40 protesters have been arrested and that authorities are searching for other suspects.