In a deepening regional rift, the nation of Qatar has severed diplomatic relations with Iran, joining Bahrain, Kuwait and Sudan in backing Saudi Arabia.
Qatar is the latest country to recall its ambassador to Iran following the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashhad, which in turn was a reaction to the Saudi execution of the Shiite cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr last Saturday.
“Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled today Qatar’s Ambassador to Tehran following the attacks on the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Tehran and general consulate in Mashhad,” said Qatar’s foreign ministry director, Khalid bin Ibrahim al-Hamar, on Wednesday.
Qatar has also lodged a formal protest with the Iranian embassy in Doha over Iran’s attacks on the Saudi embassy and consulate last Sunday. According to a foreign ministry statement, the assaults constitute a “violation of the international charters and norms that emphasize the protection of diplomatic missions and their staff.”
For its part, Iran announced Wednesday that the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina would be suspended until Riyadh can ensure “higher safety standards.”
Both Mecca, the birthplace of Mohammed, and Medina, the spot of the prophet’s burial, are in modern-day Saudi Arabia. Some 500,000 Iranians visit Saudi Arabia every year, many of whom are making the “lesser” pilgrimage or umrah to Mecca and Medina, which can be made at any time of the year.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has urged Saudi Arabia to stop provoking his country, calling instead for a united Arab front.
“This trend of creating tension must stop. We need to stand united … and stop those who are adding fuel to the fire,” he said.
Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of “opposing” Iran’s diplomacy in the region for the last for two-and-a-half years, and of undermining Iran’s interests by holding down oil prices low and resisting Iran’s nuclear agreement.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Jaafari is meeting Thursday with his Iranian counterpart in Tehran, and has offered to mediate relations between Tehran and Riyadh in an attempt to overcome the recent break in diplomatic relations between the two countries.
“Cordial relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia are beneficial to the whole region,” Jaafari said, and Iraq cannot remain silent in the face of such a rift.
“We have solid relations with the Islamic Republic [of Iran]…and also we have relations with our Arab brothers, and therefore we cannot stay silent in this crisis,” he said.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome