|EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) speaks next to |
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan
during a press conference in Abu Dhabi. (File photo)
The statements by Sheikh Abdullah, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), marked the end of the 21st annual GCC-European Union ministerial meeting.
“I'm trying to choose my words carefully. I don't want to act like some Iranian officials who throw their words in an abrasive and indecent way,” Sheikh Abdullah said.
Tension has been running high between Iran and its Arab neighbors across the Gulf, with the two sides locked in a war of words since Shiite-led protests broke out in Bahrain in mid-February.
A Saudi-led Gulf force including UAE police rolled into Bahrain on March 14, freeing up Bahraini security forces to help quell the protest movement in the only Shiite-majority Arab state of the Gulf. The move was condemned by Iran.
The population of Bahrain is estimated at 1.2 million and it has been ruled by the Sunni monarchy for more than 200 years.
A joint GCC-EU statement issued after Wednesday’s meeting backed the deployment of the Arab troops in Bahrain.
It said the two blocs played up “the importance of respect for the sovereignty of GCC member states and recognized the GCC is entitled to take all necessary measures to protect” their citizens.
The statement followed a meeting in Abu Dhabi between Ms. Ashton and Bahrain’s King Hamad.
“I’ve just had a meeting with His Majesty, the King of Bahrain. We discussed the importance of meaningful dialogue, meeting the aspirations of the people of Bahrain and...the respect of human rights” there, Ms. Ashton told reporters.
On Wednesday, Foreign Minister Mohammed Sabah al-Salem of Kuwait al-Sabah confirmed that Iranian diplomats accused of spying had been expelled, in another spat between Iran and its Gulf neighbors, according to AFP.
Iranian state television had previously said three of Tehran’s diplomats and an embassy employee were expelled from Kuwait, but Sheikh Mohammed’s remark on Wednesday was the first official confirmation from the Kuwaiti side.
Sheikh Mohammed had said on March 31 that Iranian diplomats were to be expelled for alleged links to a spy ring working for Tehran, reportedly ever since the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq.
Strains in relations across the Gulf date back to the 1980s when the Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia, backed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in an eight-year war against Iran.
The GCC has more recently voiced concern over Tehran's alleged ambitions for regional dominance and its nuclear program.
(Abdullah al-Mutawa of Al Arabiya can be reached via email at: Abdullah.firstname.lastname@example.org and Abeer Tayel, also of Al Arabiya, can be reached through email at: email@example.com)