Western nations on Sunday reacted to the growing tensions in the Middle East after Saudi Arabia executed a Shia priest provoking outrage from Iran with a mix of diplomacy and condemnation.
The United States on Sunday urged Middle east leaders to take measures to soothe tensions in the region after the execution of the cleric, Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, along with 46 others.
The execution was followed by an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran, prompting Riyadh to sever ties.
“We’re aware that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has ordered the closure of Iranian diplomatic missions in the kingdom,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said about the diplomatic rift.
“We believe that diplomatic engagement and direct conversations remain essential in working through differences and we will continue to urge leaders across the region to take affirmative steps to calm tensions.”
France and Germany voiced their concerns over the growing tensions in the troubled region, and strongly condemned the execution as being deplorable.
France “deeply deplores” Saturday’s mass execution, including that of Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr, the foreign ministry said in a statement, calling on leaders in the region to “do everything to avoid exacerbating sectarian and religious tensions”.
France opposes the death penalty “in all places and circumstances,” it said, in comments echoed by Berlin.
“The execution of (imam) Nimr Baqr al-Nimr reinforces our current concerns about the growing tension... in the region,” a German foreign ministry spokesman told AFP, saying the death penalty was “an inhumane punishment that we reject in all circumstances”.
Meanwhile the United Kingdom, which is careful to protect its deep trade and investment links with Saudi Arabia, also reiterated its opposition to the death penalty in a statement which avoided directly mentioning the executed cleric.
“The UK opposes the death penalty in all circumstances and in every country,” a Foreign Office statement said, noting that Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond “regularly raises human rights issues with his counterparts in countries of concern, including Saudi Arabia”.
The diplomatic fallout come as Iran’s supreme leader said Saudi Arabia would face “divine revenge” for Saturday’s execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, and as Western nations voiced concern about escalating sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shia Muslims.
Nimr, 56, was a force behind 2011 anti-government protests in oil-rich eastern Saudi Arabia.
He was put to death along with 46 other people, Shia activists and convicted Sunni militants who the Saudi interior ministry says were involved in Al-Qaeda attacks that killed dozens in 2003 and 2004.
After his execution, a mob attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and a consulate in its second city Mashhad.
Saudi authorities said they had asked their Iranian officials to ensure security at the embassy, but that Tehran failed to protect it.