Iran says respects Bahrain's sovereignty

FM asserts commitment to Bahrain’s independence


Iran's foreign minister said on Sunday his country respects Bahrain's independence and countering anger in the tiny island state about alleged remarks by an Iranian official.

Bahrain's cabinet earlier on Sunday branded as "irresponsible" comments by Ali Akber Nateq Nouri, a prominent conservative member of Iran's powerful expediency council, after he allegedly said the Gulf kingdom used to be Iran's 14th governorate and had a representative in its parliament.

"That was a speech which caused misunderstanding and there were some misinterpretations," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference, without elaborating.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sent a message to his Bahraini counterpart that "asserted his country's commitment to Bahrain's sovereignty and independence," a statement on Bahrain's official news agency BNA said.

"Reopening files of the past does not serve the interests of ... the region," said Mottaki's message, which Iran's ambassador in Bahrain delivered to Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, the statement said.

While Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said Mottaki “reiterated that Iran's relations with Bahrain and other countries of the region are based on mutual interests, good neighborliness and securing common interests of the region and Muslim nation.”

Strained relationship

The relationship between Sunni-ruled Arab states in the Gulf and Shiite Iran has long been strained, with its neighbors wary about the Islamic republic's nuclear drive and about spreading Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and its potential effect on their own Shiite communities.

Bahrain, which has a sizeable Shiite Muslim population, has halted talks with Iran over natural gas imports over the reported comments and said it has tightened restrictions on dhows passing through its waters, but denied media reports that it has imposed a ban on Iranian ships.

Bahrain's foreign minister also summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest the remarks earlier in February.

Qashqavi said the gas contract would be valuable for both Iran and Bahrain and both sides wanted to see it implemented.

Gulf foreign and finance ministers meeting in the Saudi capital on Sunday criticized the "irresponsible" comments.

The late shah of Iran relinquished Iran's claim to Bahrain in 1970, a year before the island on the other side of the Gulf became an independent state.

Iranian leaders have carefully avoided raising the Bahrain issue since the 1979 Islamic revolution although it is occasionally brought up in the press during periods of tension with conservative Arab states across the Gulf.