Saudi Arabia severs diplomatic ties with Iran in execution row

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Saudis face ‘divine vengeance’ for killing Shia cleric al-Nimr

 

Saudi Arabia said on Sunday it had severed ties with Iran over the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran, in a worsening diplomatic crisis between the regional rivals following the kingdom’s execution of a prominent Shia cleric.

Foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told a news conference Iran’s diplomatic mission and related entities in Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave. He said Riyadh would not allow the Islamic Republic to undermine the Sunni kingdom’s security.

Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran early on Sunday and Shia Muslim Iran’s top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predicted “divine vengeance” for the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, an outspoken opponent of the kingdom’s ruling Al Saudi family.

Mr Jubeir said the attack in Tehran was in line with what he said were earlier Iranian assaults on foreign embassies there and with Iranian policies of destabilising the region by creating “terrorist cells” in Saudi Arabia.

“The kingdom, in light of these realities, announces the cutting of diplomatic relations with Iran and requests the departure of delegates of diplomatic missions of the embassy and consulate and offices related to it within 48 hours. The ambassador has been summoned to notify them,” he said.

Earlier, the ayatollah said “the unjustly spilled blood of this oppressed martyr will no doubt soon show its effect and divine vengeance will befall Saudi politicians,” state TV reported.

It said he described the execution as a “political error”.

Saudi Arabia executed Sheik al-Nimr and three other Shia alongside dozens of al-Qaeda members on Saturday, signalling it would not tolerate attacks by either Sunni jihadists or members of the Shia minority seeking equality.

The ayatollah added: “This oppressed cleric did not encourage people to join an armed movement, nor did he engage in secret plotting, and he only voiced public criticism ... based on religious fervour.”

In an apparent swipe at Saudi Arabia’s western allies, the ayatollah criticised “the silence of the supposed backers of freedom, democracy and human rights” over the execution.

“Why are those who claim to support human rights quiet? Why do those who claim to back freedom and democracy support this (Saudi) government?” he was quoted as saying.

The US state department expressed concern that Sheik Nimr’s execution could exacerbate sectarian tensions in the Middle East.

In Hawaii, where president Barack Obama is on vacation with his family, White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said the administration has urged the Saudis to show restraint regarding respect for human rights.