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Saudi-Iran row creates new uncertainties in volatile Middle East

By Tajuddin
In DIPLOMAT MEMO
Jan 11th, 2016
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TEHRAN, Jan. 5, 2016 (Xinhua) -- People take part in a demonstration against Saudi Arabia, in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 4, 2016. A demonstration was held on Monday in Tehran to protest against Saudi Arabia's execution of Baqer al-Nimr, a prominent Shia scholar who was known to be an open opponent to the Sunni ruling dynasty. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)

TEHRAN, Jan. 5, 2016 (Xinhua) — People take part in a demonstration against Saudi Arabia, in Tehran, Iran, Jan. 4, 2016. A demonstration was held on Monday in Tehran to protest against Saudi Arabia’s execution of Baqer al-Nimr, a prominent Shia scholar who was known to be an open opponent to the Sunni ruling dynasty. (Xinhua/Ahmad Halabisaz)

Cairo,Egypt (Xinhua + DIPLOMAT.SO) – The ongoing confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, longtime powerful rivals, is further endangering regional stability, further complicating the already intricate situation in the Middle East.

The Riyadh-Tehran dispute came at a critical time when political discussions aimed at resolving the Syrian crisis are set to begin on Jan. 25 in Geneva.

The row between the two regional powers has raised concerns over the Syrian peace process as both countries are seen as essential in the ongoing battle against the Islamic State, and are viewed as important players to help lead Syria and Yemen out of devastating wars.

Saudi Arabia’s execution of 47 individuals on terrorism charges on Jan. 2, including prominent Shiite cleric Namir al-Namir, caused angry protests in Shi’ite-dominated Iran and an attack on the Saudi diplomatic mission in Tehran.

Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia then cut off diplomatic ties with Iran, leading many Gulf allies to either follow suit or downgrade their relations with the Islamic Republic.

In an attempt to ease the situation, China has sent its Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming to visit Saudi Arabia and Iran for an in-depth exchange of views with both sides on the situation, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said in a regular press conference on Thursday.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hossein Jaber Ansari said that Iran is seeking to soothe tensions in the region including its frictions with Saudi Arabia, as quoted by the official IRNA news agency on Sunday.

Jaber Ansari said cutting ties with Iran and putting pressure on other countries in doing so will not benefit Riyadh, calling its policies on the region “destructive.”

Riyadh, however, requested emergency talks gathering Arab League (AL) foreign ministers in Cairo to discuss the issue.

AL chief Nabil al-Arabi urged the Arab countries to adopt a strong and clear common position and called on Iran to stop interference in the affairs of Arab nations.

As the spat seems far from an end, a UN envoy’s remark on Sunday might be viewed by some as a silver lining. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said that both Saudi Arabia and Iran have assured him that their row would not affect their engagement in the Syrian peace talks.

Even so, relative parties remain concerned about the situation, as the rift between the two regional powers awaits to be resolved.

Analysts have expressed worries that the latest tension risks imploding the volatile region and in the worst scenario, could evolve into a widespread sectarian war.

To prevent that from happening, the two sides should, as stressed by Hua, “remain calm, exercise restraint and properly address their disputes through dialogues and consultations.”

It’s a crucial decision for the two sides to make. They could either march toward deeper sectarian division with further provocative acts, or make a compromise, ease the conflict and shoulder their responsibility in promoting regional stability.

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