By Angelo Piro
The conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran has now moved beyond the region and entered the United Nations last week. In a letter sent to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called on Saudi Arabia to calm their provocative actions in the region and in the media. This move comes as a response to Saudi Arabia severing diplomatic ties with Iran, following attacks on the Saudi Embassy in Tehran and a consulate in Mashhad, reports the New York Times.
Similar statements have come from the Iranian government in response to the stances taken by Saudi Arabia’s allies, which have ranged from public condemnation to majority Sunni nations like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Sudan severing diplomatic relations. Saudi Arabia has cancelled all flights to Iran.
Saudi Arabia received widespread public outcry in Iran for its execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on charges of terrorism and sedition, along with 46 other prisoners. Al-Nimr outspokenly opposed the ruling House of Saud’s treatment of the Shia minority and supported Shia independence and revolution. Many human rights organizations question whether the process under which he was prosecuted was wholly legal.
Zarif’s letter addressed other simmering tensions between the two states. The immediate tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran threatens to escalate other conflicts in the region, specifically in Yemen and Syria. The Yemeni government backed by Saudi Arabia has been in a months-long conflict with ethnic Houthi rebels supported by Iran. The proxy war has not deescalated, with Saudi Arabia in the past summer beginning airstrikes against the Houthi rebels. Additionally, the war in Syria is likely to reflect the situation, as Iran may seek to increase its aid to the Assad regime against the rebels, who count Saudi Arabia as one of their main sponsors.
The recent nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers was also addressed by Zarif. In his letter, Zarif accused Saudi Arabia of trying to scuttle the historic deal. Saudi Arabia has been highly critical of the deal and its implications for regional security. However, recent tensions have put a more serious color to the whole debate, as Saudi Arabia has made comments that they would seek to create their own nuclear program if Iran does the same, threatening the region with a potential arms race.