PHOTO: Armed protesters hold an anti-Saudi rally in Urmia in northwest Iran on Wednesday (ISNA)
UPDATE 1815 GMT: The Iranian Government has banned imports of all products from Saudi Arabia.
The ban was agreed at an extraordinary Cabinet session on Thursday.
The Cabinet decided that the Umrah (minor) Hajj pilgrimage will remain suspended. It was halted last April after claimed molestation of two Iranian teenage pilgrims at Jeddah airport.
Trying to take the lead on Saudi-Iranian relations, the Rouhani Government has called for an “immediate investigation” into last Saturday night’s attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Hours after Saudi Arabia’s execution of 47 detainees, including a prominent Shia cleric, a crowd set the Embassy on fire and ransacked parts of the compound. Riyadh responded on Sunday by cutting off diplomatic relations with Tehran, and several other countries have also broken ties or downgraded their diplomatic presence.
On Sunday, President Rouhani denounced the “unjustified” attack and said “extremists” should be identified and prosecuted. Initially, his call was overshadowed by hardline denunciation of Riyadh and the Saudi breaking of relations; however, by Monday other officials — including a Grand Ayatollah and prominent MPs — had returned the focus to responsibility for the Embassy attack. Even the Revolutionary Guards eased their anti-Saudi line and said, “By no means can this ugly act be justified.”
On Wednesday, Rouhani — whose policy of engagement, including with Saudi Arabia, has been damaged by the events — sought an investigation in a letter to the head of judiciary, Sadegh Larijani: “Such attacks on the country’s security and insult to the political order must be prevented by punishing the perpetrators of this apparent crime.”
The President told his Cabinet, “Diplomatic missions and guests are legally and internationally immune, and attacking these places in the country is against legal and religious laws.”
We seek good relations with all countries. We condemn the attack on #Saudi embassy & consulate. All political missions should be protected.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) January 6, 2016
At the same time, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli announced the creation of a task force for an investigation. The group will include officials of the Judiciary, the Intelligence Ministry, and police and the Governor of Tehran Province. It is to announce finding within two weeks.
Meanwhile, Government officials acknowledged that the attacks were organized, although they refrained from saying whether elements of the regime, other factions, or foreign actors were involved.
Rouhani’s senior advisor Mohammad-Baqer Nobakht said the Government is “suspicious” that “hands are at work to incite the people’s feelings”: “It is necessary for military and security forces to work with greater precision so that some people — it is unclear which government’s interests they are serving — do not exploit the feelings of others.”
Justice Minister Mostafa Pourhammadi also said the attack may have been orchestrated by “infiltrators”, while pointing to the threat of “enemy influence”. The head of Iran’s police, General Hossein Ashtari, added:
The fact that a group gathered to protest an action is normal, but an attack of this kind on an embassy is suspicious in my opinion because — expressly in accordance with the Supreme Leader’s stance over the last few years — no revolutionary person and friend of the political system [of Iran] would allow such aggression.
Meanwhile, as it hopes for a recovery in oil exports with the lifting of sanctions, the regime also talked down any lasting effects from the Saudi dispute.
“The impact of such a political tension on the oil market will be short-lived,” Iran’s representative to OPEC, Mehdi Asali, said on Wednesday. “As soon as the market regains confidence in oil supply, it will show no more reaction.”
(Hat tip to Iran Tracker for translations)
Report: Another Journalist is Arrested
Activists report the arrest of another journalist, Farzad Pourmoradi.
Pourmoradi, who writes for reformist publications, was detained in Kermanshah in western Iran.
Since last autumn, the Revolutionary Guards have seized a series of journalists, businessmen, and activists, amid escalating tension over February’s elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts.