China sends envoy to Saudi, Iran amid feud

Shi'ites protest against the execution of Shi'ite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr in Saudi Arabia, during a demonstration in Baghdad January 6, 2016. REUTERS/Khalid al Mousily

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has sent an envoy to Saudi Arabia and Iran amid an escalating feud, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, calling on all sides to exercise restraint. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Ming was currently in Saudi Arabia and would travel on to Iran, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing. "We hope the situation in the Middle East can move in the direction of amelioration," Hua told reporters. Tension between Shi'ite-majority Iran and Sunni-majority Saudi Arabia has spiralled since the execution of a Shi'ite cleric in Saudi Arabia. Qatar recalled its ambassador to Iran on Wednesday, state news agency QNA said, after allies Saudi Arabia and Bahrain cut their ties with Tehran following attacks on Saudi missions by Iranian protesters. "We hope that all parties can remain calm and exercise restraint and appropriately resolve relevant issues via dialogue and consultation," Hua added. While relying on the region for oil supplies, China has tended to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Britain, France and Russia. But China has been trying to get more diplomatically involved. The ministry said that Foreign Minister Wang Yi had met the head of the Western-backed opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC). Wang told SNC president Khaled Khoja he hoped the SNC would attend peace talks without preconditions, the ministry said in a statement. China has repeatedly called for a political resolution and warned that military action cannot end the crisis. Khoja's visit comes two weeks after Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem visited China. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)