New stress point: Tension mounts between Iran and Saudi Arabia

Friday, May 18, 2012
By Paul Martin
May 18, 2012

MIDDLE EAST – Thousands of Iranians rallied on Friday against plans for union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, state television showed, and an influential cleric denounced the idea as an “ill-fated plot” that will never be tolerated by Muslims. Tension between Iran and U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states has run high in recent months with Arab leaders accusing Tehran of fomenting Shi’ite Muslim unrest in Bahrain – a charge that Shi’ite Iran and the protesters deny. The dispute worsened when Tehran denounced efforts by six Gulf Arab states at a summit earlier this week to forge closer political and military union, largely to counter Iran’s growing regional power. The talks ended inconclusively. In the run-up to the Riyadh meeting, speculation was rife that an initial union would be announced between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where anti-government protests led by majority Shi’ites have gripped the island state since last year. “This plot is an ill-fated plot that is taking place with the American and Zionist (Israeli) green light but they should know that the people of Bahrain and the region, Muslims around the world and in Iran will never tolerate it,” cleric Kazem Sediqi said in a Friday sermon broadcast live on state radio. Iranian state television aired footage of thousands of people holding rallies around the country and chanting slogans against the ruling royal families in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to protest against the proposed Manama-Riyadh union. “Instead of surrendering to its own people, it (the Bahraini government) is surrendering its identity, with total abjectness, to another country,” Sediqi said. Tehran summoned the Bahraini Charge d’affaires on Thursday to complain about a statement from the small Gulf island state – strategically sensitive as the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet – that accused Iran of violating its sovereignty. Bahrain had already called in Iran’s envoy to Manama after Tehran criticized the Riyadh meeting, where Arab heads of state mulled Saudi Arabia’s call for joint economic, political and defense policies between Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states. No agreement on further integration emerged, with smaller Gulf Arab states wary of Saudi domination and asking for more details, and talks on the matter are to resume later this year. –Reuters

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