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Saudi Arabia hopes to elbow Iran out of Syrian settlement talks

January 12, 17:14 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir

© AP Photo Ahmed Omar

MOSCOW, January 12. /TASS/. The recent conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran has tightened the knot of Middle Eastern problems. Riyadh’s chief aim is to elbow Tehran out of the Syrian crisis settlement talks, polled analysts told TASS.

Years-long rivalry between two regional giants - Riyadh and Tehran - flared up with renewed force when the Saudis on January 2 put to death prominent Shiite cleric Nimr Al-Nimr. The execution sparked mass protests in Iran. Angry crowds stormed Saudi diplomatic missions. In retaliation, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic and trading relations with Iran. Bahrain, Sudan and Djibouti followed suit. The United Arab Emirates downgraded the level of its diplomatic mission in Iran and Kuwait and Qatar recalled their ambassadors from Tehran. Also, Riyadh’s warplanes bombed the Iranian embassy in the Yemeni capital Sana.

The leading research fellow at the Oriental Studies Institute under the Russian Academy of Sciences, Boris Dolgov, believes that Riyadh fears the Shiite Islamic revolution may spread to its territory. The Shiite population in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province has repeatedly risen in revolt. Riyadh invariably sent the army and police to quash the insurgency. In Yemen, the Saudis are at war with the Iran-backed Houthi rebels. The execution of Nimr Al-Nimr, just as the attack against the Iranian embassy in Sana’a, were expected to provoke Tehran into unfriendly moves, to bolster the unity of Riyadh’s supporters and to weaken Iran’s positions on the international scene, including those at the Syrian settlement talks in Geneva."

Dolgov sees a confirmation of Riyadh’s determination to arrange for another international boycott of Tehran in the creation of an anti-Iranian front of Arab states. At a meeting of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf foreign ministers on January 9 a decision was made to take extra measures to counter the Iranian attacks.

Earlier, Riyadh declared creation of an anti-terrorist coalition of 34 Muslim states. Iran was not invited to join in. "The coalition’s real aim is to unite all Arab states for the sake of containing Iran and the Shiite groups loyal to it," Dolgov told TASS.

He sees no risk the diplomatic conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia may develop into a hot phase.

"I know from my personal contacts with Iranian politicians and specialists that Iran is not interested in a worsening of relations with Riyadh. Nobody in the world needs a direct clash between the two regional powers, who have been at war with each other indirectly for quite a while. Nevertheless, the Saudis in their struggle for leadership in the Sunni world will go on fighting against the Shiites in Yemen and supporting Syrian radical groups, while Iran is supporting Bashar Assad’s government troops in Syria," Dolgov said.

The latest surge in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran may cause the worst harm to further Syrian settlement talks. "Riyadh and Tehran have very different lists of terrorist organizations and moderate opposition groups that can be negotiated with, and the escalation of tensions between them may stall the process of coordinating these lists," Dolgov said.

The president of the Religion and Politics Institute, member of the Presidential Council for Interaction with Religious Organizations, Alexander Ignatenko, believes that the Saudis have timed the provocation for another round of the International Syria Support Group talks, due to begin in Geneva on January 25. "The Saudis provoked the current turmoil by executing Muslim cleric Nimr Al-Nimr for the sole purpose of provoking Iran into retaliation and of discrediting Tehran as a partner in negotiations," Ignatenko told TASS.

"Riyadh had expected that in response to the execution of the Muslim cleric and the missile strike against the Iranian embassy in Sana'a the pro-Iranian movement Hezbollah would fight back, thus providing sufficient reasons for the Saudis to ask the United Nations to list it as a terrorist organization. Should Hezbollah be declared terrorist, Tehran would be barred from the Syrian settlement talks. Saudi Arabia’s main aim is to oust from Syria all of the Shiite groups from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan who have been fighting there in conformity with Iran’s interests," Ignatenko said.

"But Saudi Arabia’s trick didn’t work. After the missile strikes against the Iranian embassy in Yemen the value of Riyadh’s stance lost a great deal of its original value. Even the pro-US organization Human Rights Watch has charged Riyadh with using outlawed cluster bombs. I believe that Russia and the United States as key players at the International Syria Support Group talks in Geneva should ignore Saudi Arabia’s intrigues against Iran. It’s all sewn with white thread," Ignatenko said.

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