US urges calm in Middle East after Sheikh Nimr's execution
Iran Press TV
Mon Jan 4, 2016 3:4AM
The United States has called for leaders in the Middle East, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, to reduce tensions in the region amid international outrage over the Saudi regime's execution of prominent Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr.
The administration of US President Barack Obama on Sunday responded to Saudi Arabia's decision to cut diplomatic ties with Iran by encouraging diplomatic engagement.
'We're aware of reports that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has ordered the closure of Iranian diplomatic missions in the Kingdom,' an Obama administration official said.
'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.'
Sheikh Nimr's execution has caused international outrage and a serious escalation of diplomatic tensions in the region.
The Saudi Interior Ministry announced on Saturday that Sheikh Nimr along with 46 others, who were convicted of being involved in "terrorism" and adopting a "Takfiri" ideology, had been put to death.
Sheikh Nimr, a strong critic of Riyadh's policies, was arrested in 2012 in the Qatif region of Eastern Province, where peaceful anti-regime demonstrations were held at the time.
He was charged with instigating unrest and undermining the kingdom's security, making anti-government speeches and defending political prisoners. He had rejected all the charges as baseless.
On Saturday, US State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement that the US was "particularly concerned" that al-Nimr's execution risked "exacerbating sectarian tensions at a time when they urgently need to be reduced."
Kirby said Washington had previously expressed its concern about the legal system in Saudi Arabia and that it addressed those concerns at high levels with the Saudi government.
Sheikh Nimr had been imprisoned since 2012, prompting a high-profile campaign for his release backed by Iran, UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty International.
Amnesty International on Saturday said that Nimr has been "executed to settle political scores."
Sheikh Nimr's trial was "grossly unfair, because the international standards for fair trial were grossly flouted," Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director Philip Luther told AFP.
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