TEHRAN — Iran -- a country slammed by international rights groups for its state executions -- on Wednesday welcomed Saudi Arabia suspending death sentences against several of its nationals convicted for drug trafficking.
Iran's protests over the matter led to intervention from Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, media reported, quoting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
"He (Faisal) exerted effort in this regard and the next day he called back and said that, for the time being, the execution of the Iranians has been suspended and this is a good sign," Salehi said, according to the ISNA news agency.
"I am announcing my thanks to Saudi officials," he said, according to the Mehr news agency.
Salehi said Saudi Arabia was considering an offer to extradite the Iranian criminals to Iran instead.
In the ISNA report, Salehi added that "many" Iranians were being held in Saudi prisons but did not give a number.
Both Iran and Saudi Arabia have been criticised by human rights groups for their high number of executions ordered under their interpretations of Sharia law, which calls for death sentences for a range of crimes including murder, rape and drug trafficking.
Amnesty International late last month said there had been a significant increase in judicial killings in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2011.
Iran had executed at least 360 people, three-quarters of them for drugs offences, it said in a report, up from at least 252 in 2010.
Amnesty said it had credible reports of at least a further 274 unconfirmed or even "secret" executions in Iran.
Saudi Arabia had executed at least 82 in 2011, compared to 27 the year before, Amnesty said.
The increase in these two countries alone more than accounted for the 149 net increase in known executions across the world, according to Amnesty.
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