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‘Saudi won’t go to war with Iran’ – Somalia cuts ties with Iran

RIYADH, Jan 7, (Agencies): Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said a war between his country and Iran would be the beginning of a catastrophe and Riyadh would not allow it, the Economist reported on Thursday. “It is something that we do not foresee at all, and whoever is pushing towards that is somebody who is not in their right mind,” it quoted him as saying in an interview. The prince, who is also defence minister, added that Riyadh was concerned at what it saw as the United States’ adoption of a less engaged role in the Middle East. “The United States must realise that they are the number one in the world and they have to act like it,” he was quoted as saying.

Meanwhile, Somalia on Thursday cut diplomatic ties with Iran and ordered all Iranian diplomats and embassy staff out of the country within 72 hours. “This step has been taken after careful consideration and in response to the Republic of Iran’s continuous interference in Somalia’s internal affairs,” Somalia’s foreign ministry said in a statement. It did not mention the tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia, nor give specifics about the alleged interference.

The ministry accused Iran of trying to destabilize the Horn of Africa nation and said it has recalled its acting ambassador to Iran. Somalia joins Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Bahrain in cutting ties to Iran. Other countries have downgraded their ties to Iran. Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran on Sunday after crowds of protesters attacked two of its diplomatic posts in Iran. Those attacks came after Saudi Arabia executed a prominent opposition Shiite cleric over the weekend. Iran is seen as the guardian of the Shiite Muslim faith.

China has sent an envoy to Saudi Arabia and Iran amid an escalating feud, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, calling on all sides to exercise restraint. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming was currently in Saudi Arabia and would travel on to Iran, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing. “We hope the situation in the Middle East can move in the direction of amelioration,” Hua told reporters.

Tension between Shi’ite-majority Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia has spiralled since the execution of a Shi’ite cleric in Saudi Arabia. Qatar recalled its ambassador to Iran on Wednesday, state news agency QNA said, after allies Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut their ties with Tehran following attacks on Saudi missions by Iranian protesters. “We hope that all parties can remain calm and exercise restraint and appropriately resolve relevant issues via dialogue and consultation,” Hua added. While relying on the region for oil supplies, China has tended to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the United States, Britain, France and Russia. But China has been trying to get more diplomatically involved.

The ministry said that Foreign Minister Wang Yi had met the head of the Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC). Wang told SNC president Khaled Khoja he hoped the SNC would attend peace talks without preconditions, the ministry said in a statement. China has repeatedly called for a political resolution and warned that military action cannot end the crisis. Khoja’s visit comes two weeks after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem visited China.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister arrived in Pakistan on Thursday, where he will meet leaders of a government keen to defuse spiralling sectarian tension between the Sunni-majority kingdom and Shi’ite Iran. Saudi Arabia’s execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric on Saturday has inflamed tension across the Middle East and infuriated Iran, Riyadh’s main rival in the region. Several of Saudi Arabia’s Sunni allies have broken diplomatic ties with Iran after demonstrators ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

Pakistan, which has a large Shi’ite minority, has sought to avoid taking sides as Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif tries to stem sectarian violence at home and boost economic ties with both Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir is due to meet Sharif, his foreign affairs adviser Sartaj Aziz, and army chief General Raheel Sharif later on Thursday.

Pakistan’s foreign ministry said a joint news conference with Al- Jubeir set for Thursday had been cancelled, citing a delay in his arrival for the two-day visit. Aziz, Sharif’s foreign affairs adviser, said that Pakistan was a friend of both Saudi Arabia and Iran, and would seek to heal the rift between them during al- Jubeir’s visit. “Pakistan has called for resolution of differences through peaceful means in the larger interest of Muslim unity in these challenging times,” Aziz told parliament on Tuesday. The visit comes after Pakistan last month distanced itself from an anti-Islamic State coalition announced by Saudi Arabia, which had named Pakistan as a member. Pakistan also declined a Saudi call to join a Riyadh-led intervention, backed by most Sunni Gulf Arab states, in Yemen last year to fi ght Iranian-allied rebels.

“Pakistan can’t afford to provide what Saudi Arabia is looking for,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, an Islamabad-based commentator, adding that it had the most of any Muslim nation to lose from a broader sectarian breakdown between Sunnis and Shias. “The real trick is to fi nd a way to send him (Al-Jubeir) back happy without giving him anything that would upset his Iranian counterpart.” Pakistan wants to deepen trade links with both Iran and Saudi Arabia and improve access to their vast energy resources to fuel its power-hungry economy. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have cultivated a close alliance for decades, and Sharif spent time in political exile in Saudi Arabia in the 2000s, after he was ousted in a military coup. Iraq on Wednesday offered to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran after tensions soared following the kingdom’s execution of a Shiite cleric and attacks on two Saudi diplomatic posts in the Islamic Republic.

The standoff has seen Saudi Arabia sever diplomatic ties with its longtime regional rival and could hinder efforts to resolve the confl icts in Syria and Yemen, where Riyadh and Tehran back opposite sides, as well as affect the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al- Jaafari proposed mediation during a news conference in Tehran, but also referred to the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr as a “crime.” Saudi Arabia and its allies say al-Nimr was found guilty of terrorism charges, and that condemnations of the execution amount to meddling in Riyadh’s internal affairs. Iraq has undertaken a delicate balancing act amid the latest regional turmoil.

The Shiite-led government in Baghdad relies on Iranian help to battle the extremist Islamic State group, but is also trying to repair ties to oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which last week sent an ambassador to Baghdad for the fi rst time in 25 years. Speaking alongside Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, al- Jaafari said Iraq’s place in the heart of the Middle East allows it to play a role in trying to “alleviate tensions.” “This responsibility has been given to us and we have been active from the early moments to lessen tensions to prevent a disaster from happening that could affect the entire region,” he said. Back in Iraq, however, thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militiamen marched in Baghdad and across the south to protest the execution of al-Nimr.

Qais al-Khazali, the head of the powerful Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia, gave a speech in the southern city of Basra in which he called on Baghdad to cut diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia, expel the newly arrived ambassador and boycott Saudi goods. Russia also has offered itself as a potential mediator, though it’s unclear whether Saudi or Iranian offi cials have responded to the proposal. Zarif, meanwhile, blamed Saudi Arabia for exacerbating the situation.

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