Middle East

UN condemns attack on Saudi embassy in Iran

Media captionThe tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran explained

The UN Security Council has strongly condemned an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran by protesters angered by the execution of a Shia cleric.

The statement made no mention of the execution of the cleric, Nimr al-Nimr.

Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday after its embassy was ransacked and set alight.

On Monday, Turkey's Deputy PM Numan Kurtulmus urged both countries to calm the row, saying the Middle East was "already a powder keg".

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The UN Security Council, in response to a Saudi letter, condemned the attack on the embassy in Tehran and another attack on a Saudi consulate in the Iranian city of Mashhad.

The council called on Iranian authorities "to protect diplomatic and consular property and personnel, and to respect fully their international obligations in this regard".

It urged both sides to "maintain dialogue and take steps to reduce tensions in the region".

However, it made no reference to Saudi Arabia's execution on Saturday of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and 46 others after they were convicted of terror-related offences.


Sunni-Shia divide

  • The split arises from a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 over who should lead the Muslim community
  • Sunnis are estimated to make up between 85% and 90% of Muslims
  • Though the two branches have co-existed for centuries and share many fundamental beliefs and practices, differences lie in the fields of doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organisation

Sunnis and Shia: Islam's ancient schism


Speaking in New York, Saudi UN ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi said the dispute between the two countries could be resolved if Iran stopped "interfering in the affairs of other countries, including our own".

Riyadh has previously accused Iran of interfering in Arab affairs.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are respectively the key Sunni Muslim and Shia powers in the region and back opposing sides in Syria and Yemen.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Turkish riot police protected the Saudi consulate from Shia Muslim protesters in Istanbul

Mr Mouallimi said peace efforts in those countries should not be affected by the spat but criticised Iran's contribution to the process.

"The Iranians even before the break of diplomatic relations have not been very supportive, not very positive in these peace efforts," he said.

"They have been taking provocative and negative positions... and I don't think the break in relations is going to dissuade them from such behaviour."

Saudi Arabia had earlier criticised UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who had spoken of his "dismay" at the executions. Mr Mouallimi described Mr Ban's comments as "misinformed".

Following the attacks on the missions, Saudi authorities announced late on Sunday that they were severing diplomatic relations with Iran. They said that all commercial and air traffic links were being cut and that Saudi citizens were banned from travelling to Iran.

On Monday, some of Riyadh's allies joined diplomatic action against Iran.

Bahrain and Sudan severed relations with Iran and the UAE has downgraded its diplomatic team.

Image copyright AP
Image caption There have been violent protests in Shia areas of Bahrain

Bahrain, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy but has a majority Shia population, gave Iranian diplomats 48 hours to leave the country.

The Sudanese foreign ministry said its action was on response to "the barbaric attacks on the Saudi Arabian embassy in Tehran and its consulate in Mashhad".

Mr Kurtulmus criticised the attacks on the Saudi missions but also Saudi Arabia's execution of Nimr al-Nimr.

He called on Iran to protect all diplomatic missions and said that Turkey was against "all instances of capital punishment especially when it is politically motivated".

"For us it is not possible to support capital punishment by any country," he was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency.

"We want both countries to immediately move away from the situation of tension that will obviously only add to the already severe tensions existing in the Middle East. The region is already a powder keg. Enough is enough. We need peace in the region."

On Monday, a White House spokesman also called on both countries to "show some restraint and to not further inflame tensions that are on quite vivid display in the region".

But Iran's foreign ministry accused the Saudis of "continuing the policy of increasing tension and clashes in the region".

The row also affected global markets, sending oil and gold prices higher on Monday.

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