Tension rises between Iran and Gulf states

AFP , Monday 18 Apr 2011

Gulf Cooperation Council says in a statement that Saudi and UAE forces will only leave Bahrain when Iranian threat to Gulf Arab countries is judged to be over

Mass protests in Manama (Photo: AP)

Tension between Gulf states and Iran has risen again, with the Sunni monarchies accusing their Shiite neighbour of "flagrant" meddling and Tehran charging Washington with sowing regional discord.

In a strong statement on Sunday, Gulf Cooperation Council member states told Iran on Sunday to stop its "provocations," a month after Bahrain quelled a Shiite-led uprising, triggering a tirade of Iranian condemnation.

The group called on "the international community and the (UN) Security Council to take the necessary measures to stop flagrant Iranian interference and provocation aimed at sowing discord and destruction" among GCC nations.

Saudi Arabia on Sunday also threatened to recall its diplomats from Tehran unless they were better protected, a week after students protested outside the Saudi embassy against Riyadh's military intervention in Bahrain last month.

"The main reason (for the GCC move) is the uncovering of Iranian (espionage) cells in Gulf countries, in addition to direct and indirect interference," said the head of the Dubai-based Gulf Research Centre, Abdulaziz Sager.

Earlier this month, Bahrain said two Iranians were being put on trial on charges of spying for Tehran, and Kuwait announced plans to expel Iranian diplomats for alleged links to a spy ring working for Tehran.

"Fuelling tension through (Iranian) media like Al-Alam and (Hezbollah's) Al-Manar televisions, and the feeling among Gulf states that their embassies in Tehran were in danger" also prompted the GCC statement, Sager said.

"There is a contradiction between what the Iranians say and what they do," he said, and added that Iran insists on meddling in Arab affairs, despite statements of readiness to resolve differences.

Iran's hardliner President Mahmud Ahmadinejad responded on Monday to GCC criticism by blaming the United States for the tension with its Arab neighbours.

"America and its allies are trying to create an Iranian-Arab tension, they seek to sow discord among Shiites and Sunnis... but their plan will fail," he said.

State television later reported foreign ministry Ramin Mehmanparast as saying the GCC's "repetitive and false accusations" were "the wish of enemies who for years have sought to (act) against the unity of the Muslim world."

The GCC earlier this month accused Iran of plotting against its security after the Iranian parliament's foreign affairs and national security committee warned Riyadh "not to play with fire" after sending troops into Bahrain to help in quashing a month-long uprising.

Iran on Friday said it demanded intervention from the UN Security Council to "stop the killing of the people of Bahrain," which is predominantly Shiite.

The more strident GCC tone came after Washington accused Tehran of helping Syria in its crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, a claim that both Damascus and Tehran denied.

"We believe that there is credible information that Iran is assisting Syria... in quelling the protesters," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said last week, calling the development a "real concern."

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates warned during a regional visit this month that extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda and Iran would try to exploit unrest resulting from pro-democracy uprisings in several Arab countries.

"We must make sure these guys don't make a free ride," Gates said.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also warned that Iran could jump on the chance to manipulate Arab revolts.

"We could find that the Arab Spring turns into an Iranian winter," he told AFP on Sunday.

Lebanon's Saudi-backed caretaker prime minister Saad Hariri has also slammed "blatant Iranian interference" that caused Lebanon and other Arab countries to suffer "politically, economically and in terms of security."

But despite their close timing, Sager insisted that the latest GCC criticism of Iran was not linked to US pressure on Tehran.

"There are no American motives... and there is no coordination in this matter" between the US administration and Gulf states, he said.

He also said the standoff between the two parties could not escalate into a military confrontation because "none can afford it," adding that Iran could help preserve regional stability by not meddling in its neighbours' affairs.

"Stability in the Gulf region needs the contribution of all parties involved. It should include refraining from interference in the internal affairs of other parties," he said.

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