Iam not surprised that Tehran has been somewhat paralysed over Riyadh’s decision to break off ties after an Iranian mob attacked the Saudi embassy following the execution of the leading Saudi Shia cleric, Nimr Baghir al-Nimr, on 2 January. Since President Hassan Rouhani assumed office in August 2013, he has failed to formulate responses to Saudi policies challenging Iran, so prompting criticism from hardliners that his lack of leadership fans Riyadh’s intransigence.
The failure is clear in statements issued by Rouhani’s aides since Riyadh severed ties and other Gulf Arab states downgraded relations. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, has spent the better half of his time talking to western counterparts rather than trying with Iran’s Arab neighbours to find a way to reduce tensions with Riyadh.
Iran expected mass western condemnation of the Saudis’ execution of Nimr. Only when this failed to materialise did Tehran’s UN ambassador, Gholam Ali Khoshroo, express regret over the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Iran’s belated letter to the UN Security Council, saying 40 people had been arrested for the embassy attacks, came only once Saudi Arabia had already filed a complaint and the council’s 15 members had condemned Iran – so putting Tehran at odds with the international community as it tries to end the controversy over its nuclear programme.
Neither did much result from Iran’s attempts to build a wedge between Riyadh and the European Union through President Rouhani’s offer after the severing of ties with the Saudis to fight alongside the Europeans against Sunni extremists. Yes, the EU is sympathetic to Iran’s position, and wary of Saudi Arabia, but Europe has never been a reliable partner for Iran.