FPI Resources: Iran and Saudi Arabia Cut Ties

January 5, 2016

Saudi Arabia has broken off diplomatic relations with Iran in response to the sacking of the Saudi embassy in Tehran on January 2. The attack on the Saudi embassy followed the execution of Saudi Shiite leader Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, although the Tehran regime denies greenlighting the attack. The collapse of Saudi-Iranian diplomatic relations poses a major challenge for U.S. policymakers as they work to stabilize the region. To date, the administration has adopted a public position of neutrality toward the escalating conflict between Riyadh and Tehran. In recent weeks, the Obama administration has also barely responded to a series of Iranian provocations for fear of jeopardizing the nuclear agreement it reached with Tehran in July 2015.

The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) believes that the following publications provide useful insights to help understand this unfolding conflict and the challenges U.S. policymakers face as they attempt to navigate it.

Riyadh’s Message Is to Washington as Well as Tehran — Patrick Clawson — Washington Institute for Near East Policy — January 4, 2016

“If the administration continues to press Saudi Arabia about Nimr’s execution and other issues while doing little about Iranian provocations, it will only reinforce Riyadh's fear that the United States sees Tehran as its potential chief ally in the region. That would in turn further spur the Saudis to act vigorously on their own, as they have done in Yemen. In other words, the best way to stabilize the situation is for the Obama administration to demonstrate leadership in responding to Iranian aggression, because otherwise the Gulf monarchies will increasingly go off on their own -- likely in ways that the United States finds unhelpful.”

Iran Furious Over Saudi Arabia’s Execution Of Shi’ite Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr — Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) — January 4, 2016

“Iran reacted with fury to the execution of prominent Saudi Shi’ite sheikh Nimr Baqr Al-Nimr by the Saudi authorities on January 2, 2016. Iranian leaders threatened that his death would be avenged, declared that the Saudi regime was nearing its end, allowed enraged protestors to set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and changed the names of streets where Saudi representations are located to Sheikh Nimr Street. The following are excerpts from reactions by Iranian officials and regime bodies.”

Obama’s Middle East Balancing Act Tilts Toward Iran — Josh Rogin and Eli Lake — Bloomberg View — January 4, 2016

“As the cold war between Iran and Saudi Arabia heats up, the Barack Obama administration is trying to straddle the fence and not take sides, but its actions tell a different story -- they all seem to favor Tehran.”

The Execution of Nimr al-Nimr and Obama’s Failed Policy in the Middle East — Tom Rogan — National Review — January 4, 2016

“In short, by subordinating Saudi Arabia’s concerns to his legacy project with Iran, President Obama has eviscerated America’s tempering influence against Saudi sectarian paranoia. And by executing Nimr al-Nimr, Saudi Arabia has deliberately attacked the Iranian revolutionaries in a highly emotive way. The Saudis know the Iranians will retaliate, but they’re so concerned about showing resolve to Iran that such concerns have been overwhelmed.”

An American Ally of Necessity — Max Boot — Commentary Magazine — January 3, 2016

“In the lawless jungle that is the international system, nations seldom have the luxury of choosing good over evil. Usually, it is a matter of choosing a lesser evil over a greater evil. So it was in World War II, when we allied with Stalin to stop Hitler, and so it is today in the case of Saudi Arabia versus Iran. The two countries are in a contest for power and influence across the Middle East. Both are human-rights violators, but we should make no mistake that Iran is far worse from the American perspective: not only morally but also strategically.”

Iran Sacks Another Embassy — Elliot Abrams — Pressure Points — January 3, 2016

“The [sacking of the Saudi embassy] is another piece of evidence that Iran refuses to live by the rules of civilized diplomatic practice, and that its behavior has gotten worse not better since the signing of the nuclear deal–whose “outreach” was supposed to change Iran’s conduct. Next time someone suggests opening a U.S. embassy in Tehran as part of the improvement in our relations, remember today’s incident. The Islamic Republic still sees the invasion of embassies as an acceptable political tool.”

The Prince of Counterterrorism — Bruce Riedel — Brookings Institution — September 29, 2015

“Saudi Arabia is the world’s last significant absolute monarchy. It will not have a Gorbachev moment, because the royal family will not give up their control of the nation, nor will they loosen their ties with the Wahhabis and their faith. King Salman, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef, Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, and virtually all of the rest of the Saudi establishment believe they have survived more than two and a half centuries in the rough politics of the Middle East not just because of their ruthless determination to stay absolute monarchs, but because of their alliance with the Wahhabi clerics.”

Mission Statement

The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
Read More