Escalating tensions between the hostile neighbours, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic relations with Iran after the execution of the Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr.
According to the Guardian, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir informed that Iran’s diplomatic mission and related entities in Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave and asserted that Riyadh would not allow the Islamic republic to undermine the Sunni kingdom’s security.
The sharp decision came after Nimr’s execution which sparked outrage across the Middle East and in south Asia and the move signalled further hardening of Riyadh’s position towards Iran.
Responding to the strong move, the United States called for the leaders in the region to take “affirmative steps” to reduce the heightened levels of hostility.
“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions,” a US official said.
The massive outrage was visible among the people as they took to the streets in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, and in Bahrain and Baghdad, hours after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was set ablaze by protesters.
However, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, said the attack on the Saudi embassy was unjustifiable, and demanded that justice be brought to the perpetrators.
“I have no doubt that the Saudi government has damaged its image, more than before, among the countries in the world, in particular [among] Islamic countries, by this un-Islamic act,” Rouhani said.
The cleric’s execution happened despite clemency pleas which were delivered personally by the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon.
“Sheikh Nimr and a number of the other prisoners executed had been convicted following trials that raised serious concerns over the nature of the charges and the fairness of the process,” Ban’s spokesman said.
Riyadh, meanwhile, stuck to its position that Nimr had committed acts of terrorism.
Nimr was executed along with 46 other accused terrorists in the early hours of the New Year as Riyadh remained adamant that the cleric had committed acts of terrorism.