Mideast tensions soar as Saudi Arabia rallies countries to cut ties with Iran

The Middle East slid dangerously closer to regional conflict Monday after Saudi Arabia rallied its Sunni allies to sever diplomatic ties with Iran, prompting alarmed appeals for restraint from powers across the globe.

Bahrain and Sudan joined Saudi Arabia in cutting off relations with Iran, and the United Arab Emirates, a key Iranian trading partner, recalled its ambassador from Tehran, as the fallout from the execution of a prominent Shiite cleric in Saudi Arabia on Saturday heightened sectarian tensions across the Middle East.

The Obama administration, caught in the middle by its quest for a closer relationship with Iran and its long-standing alliance with Saudi Arabia, said it hoped Tehran and Riyadh would dial back the hostile rhetoric that has fueled the worst crisis between the regional rivals in decades.

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China, the European Union and Russia also called on Tehran and Riyadh to take steps to settle their differences peacefully, with Russia, an emerging center of gravity in the region, offering to mediate between them, according to Russian news agencies.

The implications of the Saudi-Iranian rift extend far beyond their immediate rivalry as competing regional powerhouses and encompass almost all of the wars raging in the Middle East. The current crisis could further complicate efforts to resolve the Syrian war and could strengthen, by default, the Islamic State.

The island of Bahrain, whose ruling Sunni royal family faces a challenge from its majority- Shiite population, swiftly followed the Saudi lead in breaking off relations with Tehran. The executed cleric, Nimr, had also served as an inspiration for many of the island’s Shiites. Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet.

Sudan said it was breaking off relations with Iran “in solidarity” with Riyadh, but it wields little influence in the heart of the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates downgraded ties, withdrawing its ambassador from Tehran and telling the Iranian ambassador in the Emirates to go home.

Other major regional powers, such as Egypt and Turkey, did not join in the diplomatic onslaught against Tehran. Turkish officials echoed calls for restraint on the part of Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Full article: Mideast tensions soar as Saudi Arabia rallies countries to cut ties with Iran (The Washington Post)

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