Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa on Monday said a foreign plot against his kingdom had been foiled and thanked troops brought in from neighboring countries to help end increasing unrest after weeks of protests, as the Gulf states expressed their rejection of any foreign intereference in their affairs.
"An external plot has been fomented for 20 to 30 years until the ground was ripe for subversive designs ... I here announce the failure of the fomented plot," the state news agency BNA quoted him as telling officers of the joint Gulf Cooperation Council force that entered Bahrain last week to help quell unrest.
King Hamad told the forces that if such a plot succeeded in one Gulf Arab country, it could spill into neighboring states, BNA said.
The so-called Peninsula Shield force was invited into Bahrain to help protect key facilities and not to boost "internal security," the king said, refuting accusations Saudi troops had fired on Shiite villagers.
The crackdown last week by Bahrain forces, aided by the entrance of troops from Sunni-ruled Gulf countries, stunned Bahrain's majority Shiites, the main force of the protests, and angered the region's non-Arab Shiite power Iran.
Iran, which supports Shiite groups in Iraq and Lebanon, has complained to the United Nations and asked neighbors to join it in urging Saudi Arabia to withdraw forces from Bahrain.
King Hamad's announcement came after a day of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between the Gulf island kingdom and Iran.
In a sign of rising tensions between the countries, Bahrain expelled Iran's charge d'affaires on Sunday, accusing him of contacts with some opposition groups, a diplomatic source said.
He left shortly after the Iranian ambassador, asked to leave last week. Iran expelled a Bahraini diplomat in response.
"After the illogical and incomprehensible actions of the Bahrain government, especially expelling one of our diplomats, as a reprisal the attache at Bahrain's embassy has been summoned and told that one of the embassy's diplomats must leave Iran," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said, according to AFP.
Bahrain has also said previously that it arrested opposition leaders for dealing with foreign countries.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu, on Sunday insisted on "the necessity for foreign forces to leave Bahrain."
Iran officially laid claim to Bahrain for 17 years until 1971, and since the Islamic revolution in 1979 the regime in Tehran has periodically encouraged Bahraini Shiites to rise against their Sunni rulers.
Gulf Arab states, meanwhile, said they reject Iranian and other foreign interference in their internal affairs and said Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were taking part in Libyan military operations for "safety and security".
"We reject any intervention in our internal affairs and among these countries is Iran," Gulf Cooperation Council Secretary-General Abdulrahman al-Attiyah told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Abu Dhabi, responding to questions about Saudi and UAE troops helping the government in Bahrain.
Asked about UAE and Qatari involvement in a Western military operation against Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi, he said: "We are within the coalition for safety and security according to the U.N. resolution."