RIYADH: The diplomatic crisis surrounding Saudi Arabia and Iran widened yesterday as Kuwait recalled its ambassador to Tehran and Bahrain severed air links in the face of growing international concern. Joining Riyadh and its Sunni Arab allies in taking diplomatic action, Kuwait said it was withdrawing its envoy over weekend attacks on the Saudi embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad. Kuwait’s move came after the UN Security Council strongly condemned the attack, carried out by protesters angry over Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.
Also yesterday, Deputy Foreign Minister Khaled Sulaiman Al-Jarallah summoned Iran’s ambassador to Kuwait Ali Reda Enayeti and handed him a written protest note over the attacks. Jarallah said in the protest note that such action by Iran constituted a flagrant violation of international conventions and norms. The protest note reiterated the condemnation of Kuwait of the flagrant violations, stressing the need for Iran to respect its international commitments towards accredited diplomatic missions and safeguarding their staff.
Jarallah pointed out that the note also included an assertion of Iran’s responsibility to fully protect foreign diplomatic missions in accordance international conventions regulating diplomatic and consular ties based on respect of sovereignty of states and non-interference in their internal affairs, a principle he said would guarantee peace and security in the region and contribute to the consolidation of efforts aimed at building confidence among nations. This goes in harmony with the resolution issued by the UN Security Council in this regard. Jarallah asserted Kuwait’s supportive stance with Saudi Arabia in all measures taken in this regard to safeguard its security and stability.
Meanwhile, a number of lawmakers yesterday welcomed the government’s decision to recall Kuwait’s ambassador from Tehran in protest against attacks on Saudi diplomatic missions, but some called for cutting all ties with the Islamic republic and the expulsion of its envoy. MPs also welcomed the speaker’s decision to convene an emergency session of the National Assembly to discuss the issue and demanded that the meeting should be public and not secret.
Islamist MP Ahmad Al-Azemi praised the call to hold an emergency session of the Assembly to discuss the “flagrant Iranian aggression on the Saudi embassy and consulate in Iran”. He demanded that the session be held in public to let the world hear the opinion of the Kuwaiti parliament on the matter. He also welcomed the government’s measure to recall the Kuwaiti ambassador but added that MPs would still urge the government to sever ties with Tehran and expel its ambassador from Kuwait.
MP Abdullah Al-Turaiji also welcomed the holding of the Assembly session, but said he was against holding it behind closed doors. The lawmaker said what happened against Saudi Arabia also affects Kuwait and “we have to be clear that Iran poses a clear danger against the country and the best example is the terror cell which was awaiting orders from Iran and Hezbollah to overthrow the regime in Kuwait”.
MP Abdullah Maayouf said recalling the Kuwaiti ambassador is not enough and the Kuwaiti government should take a tougher stance like that of Bahrain which cut off relations with Iran. The lawmaker said he is against holding the emergency session behind closed doors, as the Kuwaiti people need to know those MPs who justify Iranian actions. Maayouf said those who defend Iran should go to the country of their choice and added that he was surprised by those who deny that Iran is a terrorist state.
MP Faisal Al-Duwaisan however strongly responded to Maayouf’s criticism, saying the lawmakers he criticized are only defending national interests. Duwaisan described Maayouf’s criticism against pro-Iran MPs as “very cheap and undermines national unity”. MP Abdulrahman Al-Jeeran welcomed the recalling of the Kuwaiti ambassador, adding that he had long demanded boycotting Iran politically and on the economic front.
Meanwhile, Islamist MP Humoud Al-Hamdan asked the interior and Islamic affairs ministers a series of questions about a statement issued by a number of Shiite clerics and signed by “clerics of Kuwait” condemning the execution of Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia. He said the statement, signed by 17 Shiite clerics, defended the Shiite cleric as a martyr and accused Saudi Arabia of pouring oil on the sectarian fire in the region. He asked which of the signatories work as preachers in the ministry of awqaf and inquired about the ministry’s measures against them. No date has been set yet for the emergency session as it depends on when the speaker returns from abroad.
The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said it would meet in Riyadh Saturday for talks on the embassy attacks, a day before the Arab League is due to hold an emergency meeting. Tensions between Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni power, and Shiite-dominated Iran erupted this week into a full-blown diplomatic crisis, sparking widespread worries of regional instability. Iran lashed out again at Saudi Arabia for the execution yesterday, with President Hassan Rouhani accusing Riyadh of seeking to “cover its crime” by severing ties. “One does not respond to criticism by cutting off heads,” Rouhani said, referring to the usual Saudi practice of carrying out executions with beheading by the sword.
Washington and other Western powers have called for calm amid fears the dispute could raise sectarian tensions across the Middle East and derail efforts to resolve conflicts from Syria to Yemen. The Security Council joined those calls late on Monday, issuing a statement urging all sides to “take steps to reduce tensions in the region”. The statement by the 15-member council condemned “in the strongest terms” the attacks which saw protesters firebomb the Saudi embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Iran’s second-biggest city Mashhad.
But the council made no mention of the event that set off the crisis – Saudi Arabia’s execution on Saturday of Nimr, a cleric and activist whose death sparked widespread protests among Shiites. Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic ties with Tehran in protest at the attacks on Sunday and has severed air links with Iran. Some of its allies among Sunni Arab states followed suit, with Bahrain and Sudan breaking off ties and the United Arab Emirates downgrading relations on Monday. Bahrain – base of the US Fifth Fleet – cut all air links with the Islamic republic yesterday, the official BNA news agency reported.
Rouhani has condemned the attacks and Tehran’s mission to the UN vowed in a letter to the Security Council to “take necessary measures to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future”. Iranian officials have brushed aside the dispute, with government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht saying yesterday it “will have no impact on Iran’s national development”. “It is Saudi Arabia that will suffer,” he said.
Regional powerhouse Turkey expressed alarm at the crisis yesterday, with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu saying: “We expect all countries in the region to show common sense and take steps aimed at easing the tensions in the region.” He said Ankara was “ready to make any effort” to help resolve the crisis.
Iran and Saudi Arabia are on opposing ends of a range of crucial Middle East issues, including the war in Syria – where Tehran backs President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and Riyadh supports rebel forces – and Yemen where a Saudi-led coalition is battling Shiite insurgents. Despite the fears, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, insisted the row would not have an impact on efforts to resolve regional conflicts. “From our side, it should have no effect because we will continue to work very hard to support the peace efforts in Syria and Yemen,” Mouallimi told reporters.
By B Izzak and agencies