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Gulf Arab states reject Iran "interference"

After Iran warned Saudi against "playing with fire"

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council today denounced Iranian interference it its regional affairs, according to a statement distributed after a foreign ministers meeting in Riyadh today.

The statement rejected Iran's "continuing interference" in the internal affairs of the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, after Iran criticized Saudi Arabia for sending troops to Bahrain which faces protests by majority Shiites against the island state's Sunni ruling family.

The GCC meeting came after Tehran warned Riyadh that it was "playing with fire" by deploying troops in neighboring Shiite-majority Bahrain while Kuwait claimed it had broken an Iranian spy ring.

On Saturday, the new Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general, Abdullatif al-Zayani, condemned "Iran's meddling in the internal affairs of GCC countries" saying it "threatened security and stability in the region".

On Thursday Iranian parliament's national security committee said in a statement carried by state media that "Saudi Arabia knows better than any other country that in the sensitive region of the Persian Gulf, playing with fire is not in its interest," in an apparent reference to the dispatch of Saudi forces to Bahrain.

Riyadh condemned the statement as "irresponsible".

Saudi Arabia led a joint Gulf force that entered Bahrain last month, enabling authorities to quell a month-long Shiite-led protest demanding democratic reforms in the tiny kingdom.

Demonstrators appeared to have been inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt where protests succeeded in ousting the strongmen leaders.

The severity of Bahrain's crackdown, in which public gatherings are banned and security forces have been deployed at checkpoints, angered the region's non-Arab Shiite power, Iran.

In addition to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, the GCC groups Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates.

Protests also spread to the normally placid sultanate of Oman where demonstrators demanded better living conditions, without challenging the rule of Sultan Qaboos who has been in power since 1970.

A call for a nationwide protest in the Saudi kingdom last month, however, did not materialize.

Saudi Arabia knows better than any other country that in the sensitive region of the Persian Gulf, playing with fire is not in its interest

National security committee of Iranian parliament

Iran “failing to respect the norms of good neighborliness”

Riyadh responded Friday to Iran's warning by slamming Tehran for "fuelling confessional tensions (in the region) and failing to respect the norms of good neighborliness as in the case of Kuwait where a spy cell has been uncovered."

Kuwait said Thursday it was to expel an unspecified number of Iranian diplomats for alleged links to a spy ring working for Tehran, reportedly ever since the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A Kuwaiti court passed a death sentence on three members of the alleged ring, to which Tehran denied any links.

The foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, said his Kuwaiti counterpart would brief Sunday's meeting on the details of the alleged Iranian spy ring.

"Any action (against Iran) must be taken in a collective manner and after a thorough study, and must take into consideration the security and stability of the GCC," Sheikh Abdullah told Kuwaiti daily al-Qabas.

He said Iranian behavior regarding the spy ring would "complicate matters between GCC states and Iran."

Tension between GCC countries and Shiite Iran had heightened after Manama accused Tehran of meddling in its internal affairs when it slammed Bahrain's decision to bring in Gulf troops.

The two countries recalled their ambassadors and expelled diplomats.

"We reject (Iran's) call to withdraw the Peninsula Shield force from Bahrain, and consider it interference in Bahraini internal affairs," said Bahraini Zayani in a statement.

"These forces are in Bahrain due to the uncovering of a foreign-backed criminal plot that aimed to shake the security and stability in Bahrain and overthrowing its regime," he said.

At least 24 people, including four policemen, were killed in a month of unrest in Bahrain.

Any action against Iran must be taken in a collective manner and after a thorough study

UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan