Reuters: Bahrain has criticised as irresponsible reported remarks by an Iranian official that questioned the Gulf Arab kingdom's sovereignty and caused a diplomatic furore in the region.
DUBAI, Feb 22 (Reuters) – Bahrain has criticised as irresponsible reported remarks by an Iranian official that questioned the Gulf Arab kingdom's sovereignty and caused a diplomatic furore in the region.
According to media reports, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, a close adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said earlier this month that Iran had sovereignty over Bahrain.
"If these statements are meant to test the waters then the response was clear internally and externally, and this was affirmed by the magnitude of Gulf Arab and international condemnation to these irresponsible statements," Bahraini Interior Minister Sheikh Rashed bin Abdullah al-Khalifa told the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.
"It should not interfere in our internal affairs…" he said of Iran in an interview published on Sunday.
Iran has repeatedly denied having claims over Bahrain but the tensions have underscored the deep suspicions between Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab nations and non-Arab, Shi'ite Muslim Iran.
Gulf Arab states are concerned about spreading Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and its potential effect on their own Shi'ite communities.
The issue is particularly sensitive in Bahrain, which has a sizeable Shi'ite Muslim population.
Bahrain has halted talks with Iran over natural gas imports over the reported comments and Bahrain's foreign minister summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest earlier in February.
Saudi Arabia, which considers itself the bastion of Sunni Islam, also called the remarks irresponsible.
The official Saudi news agency SPA quoted an unnamed official as saying that the remarks could hurt regional ties.
The United Arab Emirates has strong trade ties to Iran but links have been strained since Iran installed maritime offices on a disputed island in the strategic Gulf this year.
Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, located near key shipping lanes in the Gulf, are controlled by Iran but claimed by the UAE with broad Arab support.
(Writing by Lin Noueihed; Editing by Katie Nguyen)