02/19/2009, 00.00
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Manama suspends negotiations with Tehran, winning Arab solidarity

The decision was made after an official close to the Supreme Leader called the tiny country the 14th Iranian province. Mubarak was in Bahrain on Monday, and Abdullah II yesterday. Saudi Arabia is "strongly rejecting the Iranian statements."

Manama (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Bahrain has suspended negotiations over the importing of Iranian gas. The decision, explained a "high official" cited by the Gulf Times, "was taken after the regretful remarks that touch on Bahrain’s sovereignty and do not support the relations between the two countries." The reference is to a remark made last week by Ali Akbar Nateq Noori, a collaborator of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, according to whom Bahrain is the 14th Iranian province. Similar statements were made a few days earlier by a member of parliament, Daryush Qanbari.

Solidarity with the tiny country - with extensive oil resources, and the base of the United States Fifth Fleet - has been expressed in various ways by "moderate" Arab countries in the region. Monday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak went to Manama, and Jordanian King Abdullah II went yesterday. Also yesterday, the official Saudi news agency SPA reported the words of "an official," according to whom "these irresponsible statements are only an attempt to defy historical and geographical facts." A Saudi spokesman, cited by the same agency, said that the Iranian statement would block efforts to establish friendly relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council (editor's note: which unites Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar) and Iran. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia while strongly rejecting the Iranian statements expresses its deep regret that such statements came from responsible officials close to the Iranian leadership."

For its part, Bahrain, following an immediate protest by its foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmad al-Khalifa, is now following up with the decision to suspend negotiations over Iranian gas, justifying this, according to a source cited by the national news agency BNA, by the "flagrant transgression against the sovereignty, independence, and Arab identity of Bahrain. It says that "repetitive Iranian claims would shake stability and security in the region, and hamper Gulf Cooperation Council endeavors to engage in bilateral relations based on mutual respect with Tehran." The reference to the past is to what happened less than two years ago, in July of 2007, when an Iranian newspaper stated that Bahrain belongs to Iran. At the time, it toook a visit to Manama from Tehran's foreign minister to quell the protests of the tiny country.

Bahrain is a Shiite-majority country - like Iran - in a predominantly Sunni region. For a few decades, until 1783, it was under direct Iranian control.

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