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Saudi Arabia-Iran Tensions Spread

Destabilization between the Middle East's two heavyweights continues. Saudi Arabia plans to cut trade with Iran. Tensions were sparked by the execution of a Shia cleric.

In Iran, demonstrations against Saudi Arabia have continued for several days.

"I don't understand what Saudi Arabia's government wants to do," says a female protestor.

In neighboring Iraq, several thousand protesters also took to the streets in the capital, Baghdad, where Shias are the dominant population.

An attack on a Sunni mosque was reported in Hilla, about 100 kilometers south of Baghdad. No one has claimed responsibility for it, but authorities indicate a possible link with the cleric's execution.

Sunni-led Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties with Iran after demonstrators attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

The Saudi Foreign Minister said that his country would end air traffic and trade links with Iran.

"It is...all the escalation is on the part of Iran. It's their aggressive moves that have led to this."
Adel al-Jubeir / Saudi Foreign Minister

Saudi Arabia's allies Bahrain and Sudan announced they are following suit by cutting ties. Bahrain is ruled by a Sunni royal family. Its Foreign Affairs Ministry told Iranian diplomats to close their embassy in the capital Manama and leave the country within 48 hours. And the United Arab Emirates announced it will downgrade diplomatic relations with Iran.

A White House spokesperson said the US government is urging all sides to show some restraint. He also said Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken with his Iranian counterpart by telephone and will soon discuss the issue with Saudi Arabia.

The Arab League plans to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the diplomatic breakdown.

Foreign ministers from the member states will meet on Sunday in the Egyptian capital, Cairo. Saudi Arabia called the meeting.

An Arab League spokesperson said the talks are aimed at condemning Iran's actions against the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Tehran.

Koichiro Tanaka of the Institute of Energy Economics, Japan spoke with NHK regarding the situation.

He says the countries that have followed Saudi Arabia's lead so far have likely done so because of their involvement in Yemen. They are fighting against Houthi rebels and forces who support former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Tanaka: Countries like Algeria, Morocco and even Jordan may sever ties with Iran following suit with Saudi Arabia. But given the fact that so far, countries like the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan are all partners with Saudi Arabia in their fight against the Houthi rebels and forces royal to former President Saleh, I take it that it's more related to the issue of Yemen rather than the entire actions in the region.

The Yemeni ceasefire was about to expire in the following days. And I believe that the Saudis were calculating an event or chain of events that would erupt after the execution that would eventually lead to some actions by Iranians that give sort of a pretext for Saudis to act inside Yemen again against Houthis and the forces royal to the former President Saleh. I don't consider that this event will alter the power balance within the region, especially the Persian Gulf region. One thing that's sure is that Iranian diplomatic efforts to regain trust and reenter the international community are going to be hampered by the recent events. There would be backlashes by the states that may have been considering a better relationship with Iran.

It is very difficult to consider that any state, or third party, could mediate the current conditions. If you look back into history in the late 1980s until the early 1990s, Saudi severed its relationship with Iran in those days. And it was only after Iraqi's invasion of Kuwait and the following Gulf War that led the Saudis to reconsider their position on Iran. Without such an event that would oblige Riyadh to reconsider its foreign policy against Iran, there is no room for first of all, mediation, and no room for the Saudis to reconsider what they have to do with Iran. So I believe that the current condition may continue at least for several years and could possibly go on for a decade or so."

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