U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken repeatedly in the last day to Saudi and Iranian officials to encourage dialogue and plans to call other officials in the region, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday.
Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties with Iran on Sunday after Iranian protesters stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran one day after the Saudi execution of a prominent Shi’ite cleric and 46 others on terrorism charges.
The estrangement between Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite-majority Iran, regional rivals, threatens to undermine Kerry’s efforts to broker a peace agreement to end the nearly five-year Syrian civil war.
In his calls, which include conversations with the Saudi deputy crown prince and the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers in the last 24 hours, Kerry has stressed the importance of pushing forward on a peace deal for Syria, his spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
“One of the key things on his mind is deescalate the tensions, restore some sense of calm, encourage dialogue and engagement between these countries, but also to make the point there are other pressing issues in the region,” Kirby said.
“Not letting the Vienna process stall or fall backward is clearly top on his list,” he said, referring to talks in the Austrian capital that brought Saudi and Iranian officials together to try to end the Syrian war.
Iran backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels while Saudi Arabia has pushed for his ouster in a civil war in which at least 250,000 people have died and more than 10 million have been displaced internally or driven abroad as refugees.
The United Nations hopes to bring Syrian government and opposition officials into direct talks in Geneva on Jan. 25.