サウジとイラン 中東安定に向け和解を

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 6
EDITORIAL: Saudi Arabia-Iran reconciliation needed to prevent further Mideast turmoil
(社説)サウジとイラン 中東安定に向け和解を

This year also began with chaos in the Middle East dominating international news. Conflict is deepening between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the two major players in the region.

With war and unrest continuing in various parts of the Middle East, these nations ought to be living up to their heavy responsibilities. Their commitment and collaboration are especially indispensable to breaking the deadlock in the situations in Syria and Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and Iran should be exploring means of compromise now. Further escalation of conflict will seriously affect Mideast peace, refugee and anti-terrorism policies, the crude oil market and all other issues of global concern. The international community must hasten to mediate and urge the two countries to meet halfway, with the United States in the lead.

Saudi Arabia and Iran have a long history of enmity. The former considers itself the leader of the Islamic majority Sunnis, while the latter is the leading nation representing the minority Shias.

The current feud was triggered by Saudi Arabia’s execution of a Shiite cleric for staging a street demonstration. In Tehran, a mob attacked the Saudi Embassy and set it on fire. Riyadh cut diplomatic relations with Tehran, and Bahrain and Sudan followed suit.

Even before this latest falling-out, Saudi Arabia and Iran were sworn rivals vying for regional supremacy. And the Iraq War became a turning point. After the war, the Iraqi regime switched from Sunni to Shiite and Iran’s influence in the region grew dramatically, much to Saudi Arabia’s alarm.

The civil wars in Syria and Yemen have an element of surrogate wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of whom are continuing to back their respective “friends” in various parts of the Middle East. The Sunni-Shia religious feud has now become one of the biggest risks for the region.

Should the current conflict spill into Iraq and Bahrain where tensions already run high between the feuding sects, the entire Middle East will become destabilized. And Saudi Arabia itself would have to worry about its internal stability, since 15 percent of its population are Shias.

These problems began to emerge with the waning of America’s influence in the region. Saudi Arabia used to boast close relations with the United States, but the latter’s increased dialogue with Iran in recent years and the conclusion of a nuclear deal have added to Riyadh’s growing dissatisfaction and frustration with Washington.

Given this background, the United States bears no small responsibility. The same could be said of the Jewish state of Israel, which is increasingly mistrustful of Iran. It is definitely the job of the United States to take the lead in urging Saudi Arabia and Israel to practice restraint.

Russia has offered to mediate. But right now, the entire international community should stand together and deal with the situation as one. The United States, Russia and European nations need to discuss concerted action at the United Nations Security Council. And the rest of the international community, including Japan, should support such efforts.

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