x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Iran expells Kuwait diplomats

Iran's expulsions of several Kuwait diplomats is further blow to Iran's relationship with the Gulf Co-operation Council

KUWAIT CITY // Tehran expelled several Kuwaiti diplomats in retaliation for Kuwait's ejection of Iranian diplomats linked to a spy network, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported yesterday.

The expulsions are a further blow to Iran's relationship with the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), which has been strained because of regional unrest. Iran has criticised Bahrain's neighbours for taking part in a crackdown on Shiite-led protests, and the council has accused its Persian neighbour of meddling in its members' internal affairs.

"At a time when we hoped to hear from our brothers in Tehran assertions that they respect Kuwait's sovereignty and vows to stop interfering in our internal affairs … the Iranian reaction totally fell short of our expectations," said Sheikh Mohammed Sabah al Sabah, Kuwait's minister for foreign affairs, in a statement yesterday.

"When the court delivered its verdict, it became clear that there was a spy network targeting the state's security," Sheikh Mohammed said.

Mubarak al Khurainij, the head of parliament's foreign affairs committee, said Iran's expulsion of three Kuwaiti diplomats was "predictable" and recommended that Kuwait's recently withdrawn ambassador to Tehran does not return, the Al Watan news service reported.

Diplomatic relations between the two countries quickly soured after three members of Kuwait's army, two Iranians and one Kuwaiti, received death sentences on March 29 for spying on behalf of Iran. Media reports at the time of their arrest in May 2010 said they had collected information on Kuwaiti and US military sites for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Sheikh Mohammed had said on March 31 that he was "astonished" to discover that the spy ring was linked to Iranian officials. He said Kuwait would expel some Iranian diplomats and recall its ambassador from Tehran. The Iranian state-run Press TV said the expulsions took place on April 2.

IRNA reported yesterday that an Iranian foreign ministry official confirmed that "several" Kuwaiti diplomats were expelled from Iran in reaction to Kuwait's decision. Press TV reported on Saturday, without giving a source, that Iran "has expelled three Kuwaiti diplomats in retaliation for the Persian Gulf emirate's decision to expel three Iranian diplomats".

A statement by the Iranian foreign ministry's information and press bureau has called the allegations from the Kuwaiti judiciary "unfounded" and "baseless", and last Monday, the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran does not need to spy on its "friends".

"It is clear that [this allegation] has no meaning," Mr Ahmadinejad told a press conference in Tehran, asking: "What does Kuwait have that we spy on it?"

At a press conference on Saturday, the Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that Iran does not interfere in other countries. He said: "Our official stances are crystal clear. We have remained committed to our principle and that is non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries."

Mr Salehi said Iran has condemned the use of violence against defenceless people, that the "legitimate rights" of the Bahraini people should be addressed, and criticised Saudi Arabia's military intervention in Bahrain.

Hossein Naqavi Hosseni, an Iranian member of parliament, said that the allegation of Iranian spying was a US plot to legitimise the crackdown on popular movements in the region.

When seven people were arrested in May 2010 in connection with the case, some Kuwaitis feared it could lead to increased sectarian tension between Sunnis and Shiites. The public prosecution banned the media from reporting on the trial.

In addition to the death sentences, a Syrian and a stateless Arab received life sentences, Agence France-Presse reported. Another Iranian and the daughter of one of the condemned Iranians - the only woman involved - were acquitted.