Riyadh defends carrying out executions, says severed ties with Tehran shouldn’t affect peace talks on Syria, Yemen

Iranian demonstrators hold anti-Saudi placards in a rally to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi)
Iranian demonstrators hold anti-Saudi placards in a rally to protest the execution by Saudi Arabia last week of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent opposition Saudi Shiite cleric, in Tehran, Iran, Monday, Jan. 4, 2016. (AP/Vahid Salemi)


Iran has expressed “regret” over two attacks on Saudi Arabian diplomatic missions and said it will spare no effort in arresting and prosecuting those responsible.

Iran’s UN envoy Gholamali Khoshroo said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Monday that the Islamic Republic “will take necessary measures to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents in the future.”

Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran on Sunday after protesters attacked its embassy in Tehran and consulate in Mashad. The violence stems from Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent opposition Shiite cleric over the weekend, which predominantly Shiite Iran has denounced.

Khoshroo said more than 40 protesters at the embassy have been arrested and handed over to judicial authorities and that investigators are seeking other possible perpetrators.

In the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, he said Iran supports the Vienna conventions on the protection of diplomats and diplomatic property. Khoshroo asked that the letter be circulated to all 193 UN member nations.

Saudi Arabia’s UN Mission, meanwhile, insisted the kingdom granted “fair and just trials” to 47 people who were executed last weekend, responding to concerns raised by the UN chief over the fairness of the judicial proceedings.

The Saudi mission, in a statement sent to The Associated Press on Monday, expressed “deep regret” at a statement from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman on Saturday saying opposition Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr and a number of other prisoners executed were convicted after trials “that raised serious concerns over the nature of the charges and the fairness of the process.”

The Saudi statement assured the UN chief of “the independence and impartiality of the judiciary authority.” It said state-appointed lawyers were provided to some of the defendants, and that appeals in some of the cases took up to 10 years.

The statement said the final rulings against the 47 people executed were reached “based on their own criminal and illegal actions” without consideration of their intellectual, racial or sectarian background.

Saudi Arabia’s UN envoy tried to allay fears that the Saudi-Iranian rift would derail peace efforts in Syria and Yemen. Two UN diplomats were dispatched to Riyadh to keep diplomatic gains afloat.

“From our side, it should have no effect because we will continue to work very hard to support the peace efforts in Syria and Yemen,” Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi told reporters.

The envoy said Saudi Arabia “will attend the next Syria talks and we are not going to boycott them because of Iran” but he also took a swipe at Iran’s role in the search to end the nearly five-year war in Syria.

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

“They have been taking provocative and negative positions.. and I don’t think the break in relations is going to dissuade them from such behavior.”

The Saudi envoy spoke as the UN Security Council haggled over the wording of a statement on the Saudi-Iranian tensions.

In a letter to the council, the Saudi ambassador called on the council to “take all appropriate measures to ensure the inviolability of diplomatic facilities and the protection of all Saudi diplomats in Iran.”

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura was in Riyadh for talks and was to head later this week to Tehran to seek assurances that hard-won gains in the Syria peace process were not in jeopardy.

De Mistura is counting on broad support to launch peace talks between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the opposition in Geneva on January 25 — the culmination of a three-month effort involving all key players.

Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have a crucial role in the diplomatic push to end the nearly five-year war in Syria and to bring about a political settlement for Yemen.

The UN envoy for Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, heads to Riyadh on Wednesday to push for a renewed ceasefire.

As reported by The Times of Israel