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U.S. urges Middle East leaders to ‘calm tensions’

Leaders urged to take measures to soothe tensions in the region after Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran

Published: Updated:

The United States on Sunday urged Mideast leaders to take measures to soothe tensions in the region after Saudi Arabia severed ties with Iran following an attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.

The attack was prompted by Saudi Arabia's execution of Shiite preacher Nimr al-Nimr, provoking outrage from Iran.

"We're aware that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has ordered the closure of Iranian diplomatic missions in the kingdom," U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said about the diplomatic rift.

"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."

The diplomatic fallout come as Iran's supreme leader condemned Saturday's execution of Nimr al-Nimr, and as Western nations voiced concern about escalating sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiite Muslims.

Nimr, 56, was a force behind 2011 anti-government protests in oil-rich eastern Saudi Arabia.

He was put to death along with 46 other people, including convicted Sunni militants who the Saudi interior ministry says were involved in al-Qaeda attacks that killed dozens in 2003 and 2006.

After his execution, a mob attacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and a consulate in second city Mashhad.

Saudi authorities said they had asked their Iranian officials to ensure security at the embassy, but Tehran failed to protect it.