News / Middle East

    US: Saudis Were Warned of Consequences of Cleric's Death

    Kerry Urges Saudi, Iranian Counterparts to Exercise Calmi
    X
    Pamela Dockins
    January 05, 2016 11:48 PM
    The U.S. has launched a cautious diplomatic effort to deal with the rift in relations and war of words between Saudi Arabia and Iran that resulted from the Saudi execution of a leading Shi’ite cleric, Sheikh Namr al-Nimr.  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been reaching out to officials in both countries to urge calm in the dispute, which could threaten other U.S. interests in the region. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Related TV report by VOA's Pam Dockins
    VOA News

    The Obama administration had warned Saudi Arabian officials about the potential consequences of executing the Shi'ite cleric whose death has roiled the Mideast and set off worldwide protests, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday.

    "There have been direct concerns raised by U.S. officials to Saudi officials about the potential damaging consequences of following through on the execution -- on mass executions, in particular, the execution of" Nimr al-Nimr, Earnest said during a Monday news briefing.

    "This is a concern that we raised with the Saudis in advance, and unfortunately, the concerns that we expressed to the Saudis have precipitated the kinds of consequences that we were concerned about," he said.

    U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby echoed the White House comments, saying, "We are particularly concerned that the execution of (al-Nimr) risks exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced."

    Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burn fabric painted to resemble the national flags of Israel, the United Kingdom and the U.S. during a demonstration condemning the execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, in Baghdad, Jan. 4, 2016.
    Supporters of Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr burn fabric painted to resemble the national flags of Israel, the United Kingdom and the U.S. during a demonstration condemning the execution of Shi'ite cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, in Baghdad, Jan. 4, 2016.

    Worldwide reaction

    Shi'ite communities have reacted furiously to the execution of al-Nimr, a prominent critic of Saudi Arabia's ruling royal family and who was a key leader of Shi'ite protests in eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011. He was convicted in 2014 of sedition and other charges, and was one of 47 people executed in Saudi Arabia Saturday.

    Following the news, protesters set fire to the Saudi embassy in Tehran, and the Sunni kingdom cut diplomatic relations with Iran, its Shi'ite regional rival.

    Earnest also expressed concern Monday about the Iranians' failure to protect the Saudi diplomatic facility. At least 40 protesters were arrested in the attacks, which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called "totally unjustifiable." But he also denounced al-Nimr's execution.

    Over the past two days, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken with Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and with Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and defense minister, Mohammed bin Salman, and with Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir in an attempt to defuse the escalating tensions.

    Kerry also planned a round of calls to the foreign ministers of all the Sunni-led states in the Gulf region.

    The rift comes at a fragile time in the region and the White House has urged the regional rivals to not let the dispute derail efforts to end Syria's 5-year-old civil war.

    "Hopefully, they will continue to engage," Earnest said. "It is so clearly in the interests of both countries to advance a political solution to the situation inside of Syria."

    The administration doesn't want to see the latest dispute affect progress made against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq, and efforts to end conflicts in Syria and Yemen. But Kirby said, “Ultimately, these are issues that these countries have to work out for themselves. ... So while we continue to make all efforts to facilitate dialogue, the emphasis is on local leadership to work through their differences and find the best path forward through this tension.

    "If you’re asking if we’re trying to be a mediator in all this, the answer is no," he added.

    Alex Vatenka of the Middle East Institute said the United States cannot do much to resolve the dispute. He told VOA's Deewa Service he believes that "one party will accuse the U.S. of siding if it says anything about the other."

    Iraqi Shiite protesters chant slogans against the Saudi government as they hold posters showing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in Saudi Arabia last week, during a demonstration in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2016.
    Iraqi Shiite protesters chant slogans against the Saudi government as they hold posters showing Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was executed in Saudi Arabia last week, during a demonstration in Najaf, south of Baghdad, Iraq, Jan. 4, 2016.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Brother's accusation

    Meanwhile, al-Nimr's brother, Mohammad al-Nimr, has accused U.S. President Barack Obama of failing to influence the Saudi government to prevent the cleric's death, according to a Yahoo News report.

    “I am sorry to say that the American government did not offer to make any efforts on this, although they knew the danger of this action and the repercussions,” Mohammed Al-Nimr told the online news site. “We asked very clearly for the American president to intervene as a friend of Saudi Arabia -- and the Americans did not intervene."

    Mohammed al-Nimr told Yahoo News that he personally asked officials at the U.S. consulate in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, to urge Obama to speak out against his brother’s death sentence. But he said no statement was issued. “They limited themselves to general statements from the State Department."

    Earlier this year, two other Shi'ite men involved in the protests were sentenced to death, including Ali al-Nimr, the son of Mohammed al-Nimr, who was 17 years old at the time of the demonstrations.

    The sentences have yet to be carried out.

    At the time, State Department spokesman Kirby said the U.S. government was “deeply concerned by the case of Ali al-Nimr,” noting that he was then a juvenile and that a confession he made in a Saudi jail was reportedly made “under duress.”

    A White House spokesman declined to comment to Yahoo News about Mohammed al-Nimr’s statements, including his criticism of Obama.

    However, a senior administration official emailed Yahoo News, saying: “We have spoken to the Saudi government about the cases of Nimr al-Nimr and Ali al-Nimr, as well as other (Shi'ite) protesters who were sentenced to death, and asked the Saudi government to ensure fair trial and appeal guarantees and transparent judicial proceedings in all cases.”

    Obama administration officials privately acknowledged, according to the Yahoo report, the Saudi mass executions and other human rights abuses have raised difficult diplomatic issues as the U.S. attempts to push the Saudis to take a more active role in the anti-IS fight.

    Some material for this report came from Reuters.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: umer from: Pakistan
    January 06, 2016 4:06 AM
    The Obama administration had warned Saudi Arabian officials about the potential consequences of executing the Shi'ite cleric whose death has roiled the Mideast and set off worldwide protests.
    Dear Obama no one warn ROYAL of ARAB. Saudi family is royal family can buy every thing like your retal army. Obama is not from any royal, just from slave family. Remember before warn arab royals next time.

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 05, 2016 11:56 AM
    Saudi Arabia warned the Obama administration about the nuclear deal with Iran, about easing the sanctions, about unfreezing Iran's financial assets held in the US, and about the growing threat Iran poses to the region. The US ignored those warnings. Israel gave Obama's administration the same warnings publically. The Obama administration has demonstrated lack of knowledge of how the world actually works, weakness, and indifference to the national security concerns of others. Now it is paying the price.

    Saudi Arabia wasn't going to wait around any longer for the threat from Iran to take a quantum leap ahead of where it already is. Neither would Israel have waited much longer. Saudi Arabia recognizes that the longer it waits to wage an inevitable war against Iran, the less chance it has of surviving.

    Will it surprise anyone if it turns out Saudi Arabia already has nuclear weapons purchased from Pakistan and uses them on Iran? It looks like the Mideast is about to go up in flames and there isn't anything the US can do about it. Why does Kerry even waste his breath trying to stop it? It was his blundering and his boss's incompetence that poured out the gasoline and lit the match.
    In Response

    by: Marcus Aurelius II from: NJ USA
    January 06, 2016 12:30 PM
    Sevket, I have news for you. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are allies. They also share the same enemies, Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime in Syria. Turkey is worried about the Kurds. Why not carve a Kurdistan out of Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Then all of the Kurds in Turkey will have a reason to leave and a place to go. For all practical intents and purposes a de facto Kurdistan already exists in Northern Iraq and another could emerge in Syria.
    In Response

    by: Sevket Yilmaz from: Turkey
    January 06, 2016 2:09 AM
    I do not think our government was sensible when it supports the ISIS and earns huge money from the dirty oil contracts with the ISIS. But it is still far better than those of Saudi Arabia which killed people in bloody brutal ways. I hope that such criminal kingdom will fall soon to pay the way for a western style one.

    by: anynmous from: usa
    January 05, 2016 9:52 AM
    The best course of action is stopping import oil from middle east . we should increase the production of natural gas . get oil from Alaska. produce car more efficient in consuming gas. middle east will inflame in fire because Islam and natural haltered between two factions of Islam . and should not go in war in this region again . we went in war in Iraq and it was a disaster . then Obama come to the office and turn middle east into fiasco because Islam is a religion of peace . Obama policy in middle east is a failing policy and we have to stop involving in their nasty ideology . Saddam Hussein was using chemical gas to kill Shia Obama administration support Sunni against Bashar el Assad and create isis . are we continuing fail policy or stop and mind our own business and focus on our economy and education and health car rather to put our solider in a risk because of Islam .

    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    January 05, 2016 7:27 AM
    SA shouldn’t shy away from the right to its autonomy/sovereignty which Iran’s reaction tries to deny. Nobody should take it away from Saudi-Arabia the right to anchor the devilish constitution of sharia. Iran does worse than this, but it is only important that there’s Saudi-Arabia to muster the gut to pay Iran back in its own coin.

    Both Iran and SA have been trying to outdo each other in the game of terrorist hide and seek – Iran and Saudi-Arabia have anchors in northeast Nigeria where boko-haram is holding sway despite president Buhari’s claim to the contrary – but they have sent arms and supplies to terrorists destabilizing countries everywhere, and why not them having to test themselves – Saudi-Arabia leading for now.

    USA trying to warn SA of the consequences of its action is derogatory; what’s Iran going to do in the event that Saudi-Arabia killed a shi’ite madman that’s been inciting trouble elsewhere except Iran? The shia reaction cannot but be spark in a teacup. Maybe what’s playing out in the Mideast between Iran and SA is a fallout of the shia-military imbroglio in Kaduna state Nigeria. It’s all about mischief – let it work on mischief makers
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    January 05, 2016 12:25 PM
    Godwin you seem to be an ISIS and AQ sympathizer.

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