サウジVSイラン 断交は中東の混迷深めないか

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Middle East troubles deepen as rift between Saudi Arabia, Iran grows
サウジVSイラン 断交は中東の混迷深めないか

The action poured cold water on the efforts of the international community to end the Syrian civil war.

Saudi Arabia, leader of the Sunni Muslim world, broke off diplomatic relations with Iran, a major Shiite power. Bahrain and Sudan followed Saudi Arabia in severing diplomatic ties with Iran, and Kuwait and other countries recalled their ambassadors from Tehran.

The Yemeni civil war also has been turned into a proxy war between the administration of Sunni President Abed-Rabbo Mansour Hadi, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, and pro-Iranian Shiite armed forces. Iran lambasted Saudi Arabia, saying its embassy in Yemen had suffered damage in Saudi airstrikes.

If hostility deepens between Saudi Arabia and Iran, both of which are major oil-producing countries in the world, it is feared that their deteriorating relationship could influence the crude oil market and global economy. Both countries must restrain themselves and swiftly attempt to calm the situation.

Peace negotiations aimed at bringing about a ceasefire and transfer of power in Syria are expected to be held in late January. A situation should be avoided in which Iran, which supports the administration of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Saudi Arabia, which demands Assad’s resignation, intensify their invective, with the result that the negotiations merely spin around in circles.

The deepening of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian conflict is causing further disarray in the Middle East. This is a serious situation.

If the Syrian civil war is prolonged, the sweeping operation to eliminate the Sunni extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) will be delayed and the outflow of refugees to Europe will continue.

Execution of cleric

Saudi Arabia cut its diplomatic relations with Iran because the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was attacked by rioting Iranians.

Ensuring the safety of foreign diplomatic missions is an obligation under international law. Iran’s security system, which could be regarded as conniving at the rioters’ intrusion into the embassy’s premises, is problematic.

However, the conflict was triggered by Saudi Arabia’s execution of a noted Shiite cleric for leading demonstrations criticizing the Saudi royal family.

Iran called for the cleric to be pardoned by Saudi Arabia and the United States also opposed the execution on humanitarian grounds, as it feared the situation would be aggravated. Saudi Arabia bears very heavy responsibility for executing the cleric in spite of these moves.

Saudi King Salman does not follow the traditional moderate line of the royal family but instead aggressively intervenes in conflicts. Behind this may be distrust toward the United States’ Middle East strategy, as the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama shifts its focus toward improving relations with Iran and downgrading the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Lifting of sanctions against Iran by the United States and European countries, based on the nuclear agreement, is expected to start as early as this month. Saudi Arabia’s hard-line policy is the result of urgent concern that if Iran resumes exporting crude oil, the current low oil prices could sink further and the deterioration of Saudi Arabia’s fiscal condition would accelerate.

The United States, which plays a role in maintaining stability in the Middle East, can only exert a limited influence on Saudi Arabia and Iran. Under the circumstances, will Russia, which is prepared to act as an intermediary in the Saudi-Iran conflict, be the only player to boost its presence in the region?

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 8, 2016)

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