Iran criticizes Saudi-Bahrain union plan
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran criticized on Tuesday plans by Gulf Arab leaders to form a closer political, economic and military union to counter Shi'ite Muslim discontent in Bahrain, warning such move would "deepen the wounds" in the island state.
Gulf Arab countries held a summit in Riyadh on Monday to establish closer union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which sent troops in March last year to help squash the uprising in Manama, but failed to agree on further integration.
The meeting was also a part of a strategy by the wealthy Sunni Muslim monarchies to counter Shi'ite Muslim Iran's growing influence.
"The solution to the Bahrain crisis is to fulfill the legitimate demands of the people and any foreign intervention or non-normative plans ... will only deepen the wounds in Bahrain," Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying.
Majority Shi'ites have been leading an uprising in Bahrain for democratic reforms for over a year, raising Saudi fears of unrest spreading to Shi'ites in its oil-producing Eastern Province.
After the meeting on Monday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said talks on a possible union of six nations had been postponed until the next meeting in Bahrain in December.
Saud al-Faisal also urged Iran "not to interfere" if an agreement was reached for a union.
Gulf Arabs accuse Iran of fomenting unrest in Bahrain - a charge Iran and protesters deny. Tehran has lauded Arab uprisings in the region as an "Islamic awakening" against despotic rulers and said they were influenced by its own 1979 Islamic revolution.
Most Gulf Arab ruling families are Sunni, and non-Arab Iran is the main Shi'ite power in the region.
Tension between Iran and U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states has also been high over Iran's nuclear energy program, which Gulf rulers fear will give Tehran a nuclear weapon and increase its prestige among ordinary Arabs.
Gulf Arab states are already tied militarily, politically and economically in the Gulf Cooperation Council, formed in 1981 by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates to counter Iraqi and Iranian influence.
(Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; editing by Andrew Roche)
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