Kuwait recalls Tehran ambassador amid growing Saudi-Iran dispute

Kuwait recalled its ambassador Tuesday from Iran amid a growing regional dispute surrounding Saudi Arabia's weekend execution of a dissident Shiite cleric.

The Gulf emirate called in the Iranian ambassador and handed him an official protest over the storming of the Saudi embassy in Tehran by demonstrators after the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, Kuwait's official KUNA news agency reported.

The report did not specify whether the Kuwaiti ambassador to Iran was being recalled for consultations or indefinitely.

Kuwait is not the first majority Sunni country to take diplomatic steps against Iran in protest at the Shiite power's reaction to the execution.

Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with Iran on Sunday, angered by Tehran's vehement criticism, as well as the storming of the embassy.

Riyadh's allies in Bahrain and Sudan followed suit Monday, while the United Arab Emirates recalled its ambassador and said it was downgrading diplomatic relations with Tehran.

Bahrain on Tuesday announced a ban on flights to and from Iran, a step taken Monday by Saudi Arabia.

Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, who had condemned the attack on the Saudi embassy, hit back at Riyadh during a meeting with Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen in Tehran.

"Of course, the Saudi government, in order to cover up its crime of beheading a religious leader, has resorted to a strange measure and has severed its ties with the Islamic Republic, whereas, undoubtedly, such moves will never hide that great crime," Rowhani said in remarks reported by government-run Press TV.

Turkey added its voice to calls for calm, saying that Saudi Arabia and Iran were "the two most important countries of the Islamic world" and must find a way to reduce tensions.

"The political tension between these two countries can't contribute to peace in the region, which already resembles a powder keg," Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said in a Twitter post.

Pakistan and Algeria have already joined the European Union and United States in calling for reconciliation, amid fears that the dispute will hamper peace efforts in Yemen and Syria, where Iran and Saudi Arabia support rival sides in the conflicts.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed al-Jubeir met Tuesday in Riyadh with Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy on Syria, who said there was a "a clear determination on the Saudi side that the current regional tensions will not have any negative impact" on the Syria peace process.

Syria peace talks are due to resume January 25, in a process that for the first time is bringing both Saudi Arabia and Iran to the negotiating table.

Along with Russia, Iran is the main outside backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Riyadh is a key supporter of rebel forces.

In Washington, Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the global coalition against the Islamic State movement said the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia had not yet affected.

Both Saudi Arabia and Iran oppose the Islamic State group, a Sunni extremist group that holds major swaths of Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

In Washington, Brett McGurk, US special envoy for the global coalition against the Islamic State movement, said the dispute between Iran and Saudi Arabia had not yet affected the effort against Islamic State forces.

"So far, we have not seen impact on the overall [anti-Islamic State] campaign," he said at the State Deparment.

He noted that US Secretary of State John Kerry "was on the phone almost all day" on Monday trying to defuse the diplomatic crisis.

"We are encouraging a de-escalation, because any time you have regional polarization, regional escalation, it obviously can cause difficulties, and it opens up seams for extremists on all sides to take advantage of the situation," McGurk said.

"Obviously, it's something that we're concerned about."

The execution of al-Nimr, who was popular among disaffected members of Saudi Arabia's Shiite minority, has led to protests by Shiite Muslims across the region.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the killing - which was one of 47 executions, mostly of al-Qaeda-linked terrorist convicts, announced on Saturday - would lead to "divine vengeance" on Saudi Arabia's rulers.

Last update: Wed, 06/01/2016 - 01:35

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