Iran condemns mass executions carried out by Saudi Arabia

Tehran criticises violation of ‘basic human rights’ and suspends reconciliation talks

Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman and his Emirati ally Mohammad bin Zayed have refused to take US president Joe Biden’s telephone calls following the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Photograph: Bandar Al-Jaloud/Handout

Iran has condemned the mass executions carried out by Saudi Arabia on Saturday and unilaterally suspended the fifth round of reconciliation talks scheduled for Wednesday. No date has been fixed for resumption of the Baghdad-brokered negotiations launched last April.

The Saudis claim discussions have been exploratory only, while Iran argues the talks have covered a "good distance". The return of Iranian envoys in January to the Jeddah-based Organisation of Islamic Co-operation was seen as a sign of progress and prompted Tehran to express readiness to reopen its embassy in Riyadh.

The suspension of talks amounts to a major blow to Iraq's efforts to end the estrangement of Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia and ease tensions arising from their adoption of opposite sides in conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

Although Iran is the world's most prolific executioner, its foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the Saudi executions, the largest in the kingdom in decades, violated "basic human rights and principles and international law".


Among the 81 men executed were 41 Saudi Shias from the oil-rich Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia routinely accuses the kingdom's Shia minority citizens of "deviant beliefs" and cracks down hard on Shia protests against discrimination and abuse.

Regional tensions

Riyadh cut diplomatic relations with Tehran after Iranian rioters attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad in protest against the 2016 execution of dissident Saudi Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. He had called for the Eastern Province, which has a Shia majority, to secede if Shias were not granted full rights.

The restoration of ties between Tehran and Riyadh could cool regional tensions. This wouldboost prospects for the rescue of the 2015 nuclear deal limiting Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions on Iran.

By adopting a common approach, Tehran and Riyadh might also secure a ceasefire in Yemen where Shia Houthi rebels, with limited Iranian support, have for six years battled the forces of the US-backed Saudi-sponsored government, creating the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.

While the US and its Western allies have refrained from condemning the Saudis, the executions make it difficult for Washington and Riyadh to end a period of alienation. This was caused by president Joe Biden's snub of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman over the 2018 brutal murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom's Istanbul consulate.

The crown prince and his Emirati ally Mohammad bin Zayed have refused to take Mr Biden's telephone calls following the outbreak of war in Ukraine. He seeks to persuade them to increase oil exports to make up for a shortfall in Russian supplies due to warfare and sanctions.

In response, last week Riyadh-led petroleum exporters decided against increasing production and exports.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times