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Editorial: U.S. gov't must move to help break gridlock between Saudi Arabia and Iran

It's more depressing than disappointing. Why must two major countries in the Muslim world break diplomatic ties while the so-called Islamic State militant group (IS) continues to massacre those they consider "heathens?" And why didn't the U.S. government mediate so that it didn't come to this? Such developments only serve to delight IS, which is bent on breaking up the international community.

    At the center of the diplomatic break-up are Saudi Arabia, comprising mostly Sunni Muslims, and Iran, whose population is largely Persian, of the Shiite Muslim faith. The relationship between the two countries -- which sit on opposite shores of the Persian Gulf -- quickly went downhill after the 1979 Iranian Revolution, in which Iran's Pahlavi dynasty was overthrown.

    Since its founding, Saudi Arabia's monarchy has been hereditary, with the position of king being passed down the Saud family. It calls itself "the Land of the Two Holy Mosques," one each in Mecca and in Medina. Iran, meanwhile, has established a regime based on scholars of Islamic law since the 1979 revolution, and has criticized Saudi Arabia, arguing that nowhere in the Quran does it say that a king should rule over a country. This is at the root of the two countries' conflict.

    One could say, however, that until now, even as Saudi Arabia and Iran feuded with each other, they'd been able to coexist. What prompted the latest diplomatic break was Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shiite cleric, in response to which angry Iranians attacked the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. It was subsequently reported that a Saudi-led coalition bombed the Iranian Embassy in Yemen. The situation remains unstable and unpredictable, and we urge both sides to practice self-restraint.

    The traditionally diplomatically moderate Saudi Arabia's switch to a more aggressive approach occurred against a backdrop of Saudi dissatisfaction toward the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama. As evidenced in the U.S. taking Iraq's side during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, and clamping down on both Iran and Iraq after the Gulf War of the 1990s, the U.S. had long supported oil-producing Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia.

    Last year, however, the Obama administration reached a nuclear deal with Iran, and with it arose the possibility that the U.S. will lift its economic sanctions against Iran. From Saudi Arabia's point of view, the U.S.-Iran accord appears to open up a path for Iran to produce nuclear weapons. Additionally, in the post-Iraq-War Middle East, there has been a rise of the Shia Crescent -- Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon -- where Shiites have substantial power.

    In response to such developments, did the U.S. perhaps fail to maintain close communications with Arab nations? Regardless of the Obama administration's intentions, it goes without saying that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, have long supported American Middle East policy. That GCC members such as Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait have also decided to either cut diplomatic ties with Iran or recall their ambassadors has significant implications.

    It is crucial that not only the League of Arab States and Russia, but that the U.S. also step in to help resolve the current tensions. We call on the Obama administration to help break the gridlock and assist in repairing Saudi-Iranian ties. Conflict between oil-producing countries can cause economic disturbances on a global scale. The escalation and expansion of religious conflicts can lead to even greater crises.

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