Iran has reportedly decided to temporarily suspend its secret Baghdad-brokered talks aimed at defusing years-long tensions with Saudi Arabia, after the oil-rich kingdom carried out its largest known mass execution in its modern history.
- Saudi Arabia has denied allegations of human rights abuses after the mass-execution of 81 people
- Sporadic protests have erupted among Shiites in the nearby kingdom of Bahrain
- The Baghdad-mediated talks started last year as Saudi Arabia sought a way to end its war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen
The Iranian news website Nournews — considered close to the country’s Supreme National Security Council — reported on Sunday, local time, that the government had unilaterally paused its talks with Saudi Arabia, which have been ongoing in Baghdad over the past year and have been aimed at restoring diplomatic ties.
Iraq’s foreign minister earlier had said the fifth round of talks between Saudi and Iranian representatives was due to resume on Wednesday.
The report did not give a reason for Iran’s suspension of the talks, but it comes after Saudi Arabia put to death 81 people convicted of crimes that ranged from killings to ties to militant groups, a group that activists believe included more than three dozen Shiites.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said the executions were in “violation of basic human rights principles and international law”, Iranian state media reported.
Saudi Arabia denies allegations of human rights abuses and says it protects its national security through its laws.
Shiites — who primarily in the kingdom’s oil-rich east — have long of being treated as second-class citizens.
Saudi Arabia’s executions of Shiites have stirred regional unrest in the past.
Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim country in the world, and Sunni powerhouse Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in 2016 after Saudi Arabia executed prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.
Angry Iranians protesting the execution stormed two Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran, fueling years of animosity between the nations.
A tense time for the region
Late on Saturday, local time, sporadic protests erupted among Shiites in the nearby island kingdom of Bahrain over the mass executions.
The Baghdad-mediated talks between the regional foes began quietly in Iraq’s capital last year as Saudi Arabia sought a way to end its disastrous war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, a conflict that has spawned the world’s worst humanitarian disaster and brought rebel drones and missiles raining down on Saudi airports and oil facilities.
Iran-backed militias also have attacked Saudi targets and launched drones against the kingdom from Iraq.
The pause in diplomatic talks between the countries that have long competed for influence across the Middle East comes at a tense time for the region.
On Sunday, Iran claimed responsibility for a missile strike landed in the vicinity of the US consulate in Iraq’s northern city of Irbil, describing the attack as retaliation for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two members of its Revolutionary Guard.
Talks to revive Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers meanwhile broke off last week without an agreement, casting uncertainty over months of negotiations that had nearly reached a breakthrough.