U.N. pushes Syria, Yemen peace amid 'worrying' Saudi break with Iran

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations worked quickly on Monday to salvage fragile international bids to broker peace in Syria and Yemen from a spillover of tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran after Riyadh’s decision to cut off ties with Tehran.

Slideshow ( 5 images )

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday told Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir he was extremely troubled by the break in ties, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. Ban spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday.

“The Secretary-General reiterated that the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran was deplorable, but added that the announcement of a break in Saudi diplomatic relations with Tehran was deeply worrying,” Dujarric told reporters.

“The Secretary-General urged both foreign ministers to avoid any actions that could further exacerbate the situation between the two countries and in the region as a whole,” Dujarric said.

Saudi Arabia cut ties with Iran on Sunday, two days after Iranian demonstrators stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran in protest over Riyadh’s execution of a senior Shi’ite cleric.

Ban wanted to ensure that both Iran and Saudi Arabia, regional rivals with a long history of tense relations, continue their commitment to ending the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, where the two countries back opposing sides, Dujarric said.

“(The U.N.) will be pushing forward and very much hoping that the current tensions will not impact negatively on the two peace processes,” Dujarric said.

Related Coverage

The United Nations has said that it wants peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition to begin in Geneva on Jan. 25. It is also pushing for a ceasefire to take place when those U.N.-brokered negotiations begin as part of an international push to end the five-year Syrian civil war.

U.N. Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura is visiting Saudi Arabia and Tehran this week on a preplanned visit, while U.N. Yemen mediator, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, is to return to the region on Thursday, Dujarric said.

“Mr. de Mistura believes that the crisis in Saudi-Iranian relations is a very worrisome development and he stresses the need to ensure that it does not cause a chain of adverse consequences in the region,” he said.

A Saudi-led coalition that has been bombing the Iranian-allied Houthi movement in Yemen for nine months announced on Saturday the end of a ceasefire that began on Dec. 15, in a setback to U.N.-brokered attempts to end that conflict.

Dujarric said Ban told Jubeir that Saudi Arabia should “renew its commitment to a ceasefire” in Yemen.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Dan Grebler