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Saudi Arabia Cuts Diplomatic Relations With Iran Over Execution Protests

RIYADH — Saudi Arabia said Sunday it had severed ties with Iran over the storming of the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in a worsening diplomatic crisis between the regional rivals following the kingdom's execution of a prominent Shiite cleric.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference that Iran's diplomatic mission and related entities in Saudi Arabia had been given 48 hours to leave.

Nimr al-Nimr Execution Ignites New Chapter in Shiite-Sunni Struggle 2:37

In a tweet Sunday evening, written in Arabic, the Saudi Foreign Ministry said: "His excellency, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir [of the] Saudi kingdom is announcing cutting diplomatic ties with Iran."

The official Saudi Press Agency confirmed the announcement a short time later. Forty-seven Saudi nationals, described as dependents of Saudi diplomatic personnel, were evacuated on a flight home, is said, quoting the Foreign Ministry.

Al-Jubeir said Riyadh would not allow the Islamic Republic to undermine the Sunni kingdom's security.

According to the semi-official Fars news agency, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said "Saudi Arabia cannot cover up [the] mistake of executing a religious figure by announcing a cutting of diplomatic ties."

Related: Shiite Leaders Condemn Saudi Execution

The Foreign Ministry summoned Iran's ambassador and delivered a "strong protest note" objecting to Tehran's failure "to provide the necessary protection for foreign missions according to international relevant agreements and laws," according to the Saudi Press Agency.

It said the kingdom had lodged formal protests with the U.N. Security Council, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

Image: Protest around the Saudi Arabia embassy in Tehran
Iranian anti-riot police scuffle with protesters during a demonstration Sunday near the Saudi Embassy in Tehran. Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA

Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi Embassy on Sunday and Shiite Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, predicted "divine vengeance" for the execution of Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr, who was an outspoken opponent of the kingdom's ruling Al Saudi family.

The United States responded to Saudi Arabia's decision by encouraging diplomatic engagement and calling for leaders throughout the region to take "affirmative steps" to reduce tensions.

"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."