Overnight Defense: US urges calm as Saudi Arabia, Iran rift widens

THE TOPLINE: Regional tensions intensified following Saudi Arabia's execution of a Shiite cleric, leaving the United States caught in the middle and urging calm.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia executed 47 prisoners, including Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shiite cleric who was critical of the Saudi royal family.

Iran slammed the execution, and on Saturday night, protestors there ransacked the Saudi embassy. On Sunday, Saudi Arabia responded by cutting diplomatic ties with Iran.

Bahrain and Sudan followed suit Monday by completely severing diplomatic relations, while the United Arab Emirates downgraded its diplomatic efforts.

Saudi Arabia also announced Monday it was stopping all flights to and from Iran.

U.S. officials, worried the tension could spill into Syrian peace efforts and the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), urged Saudi Arabia and Iran to step back.

"We do continue to be concerned about the need for both the Iranians and the Saudis to deescalate the situation in the Middle East," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters. "We are urging all sides to show restraint and to not inflame the tensions that have been on display in the region."


PENTAGON: WORK IN RAMADI 'FAR FROM OVER': The Pentagon said Monday there is more work needed in order to clear the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) from Ramadi in Iraq, but "solid progress" has been made.

"It's certainly been a good news story so far, but the work is far from over," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters.

Security forces raised an Iraqi flag over a government building in the center of Ramadi last week and declared the provincial capital city reclaimed from ISIS.

But U.S. military officials said ISIS still remained in the eastern and northern outskirts of the city.

"There will be both good days and bad days ahead in Ramadi as they continue to clear ISIL," Davis said, using the administration's preferred acronym for the terrorist group. "It's dynamic, and it'll continue to change."


RESERVIST SUICIDES INCREASE IN 2015: Military suicides among Army reservists in 2015 ticked up from the previous year, according to data released Monday by the Pentagon.

There were 48 Army Reserve suicides in the first three quarters of 2015, which exceeds 2014's total of 42. And the number for 2015 is expected to grow as the fourth quarter numbers are tallied.

The Air National Guard totals for the first quarters of 2015 also already exceed the total for 2014. The data shows 18 suicides for the first three quarters compared to 14 total in 2014.

Among active duty personnel, military suicides for the first three quarters of 2015 are higher than at the same point in 2014 for each service.

But the total number for 2015 for the active component looks to be roughly comparable to the total for the year before.

"The Department of Defense continues to consider any suicides too many and we're doing everything we can to prevent suicide in our military," said Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis.


IRAN SAYS AMERICANS PROPOSED PRISONER SWAP FOR JOURNALIST: Unidentified Americans have contacted Iran to propose a deal to swap Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian for unspecified detainees, a senior Iranian official said Sunday.

"Some Americans contact us sometimes, asking us to exchange him with other detainees, but the sentence has not been announced yet," Iran's Fars news agency quoted judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei as saying, according to Reuters.

A senior White House official contacted by Reuters did not want to comment on the claim, saying, "We're not going to comment on every public remark by Iranian officials concerning our detained and missing citizens. We continue to make all efforts to bring our citizens home."

Rezaian, a 39-year-old Californian-born Iranian-American, was arrested in July 2014 while working for the Post in Tehran. He was convicted on charges of espionage in October, but his sentence has not been announced.



-- GOP senator: 'Foolish' to lift Iran sanctions

-- Taliban gaining ground in Afghanistan, former CIA chief says

-- Republican: US has 'no plan at all' in Syria

-- Russia names US as security threat

-- King: Americans have lost faith in Obama over ISIS


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