DUBAI Iran on Tuesday denied accusations by the Yemeni president of meddling in his country's domestic affairs, urging Sanaa to instead take "serious action" to secure the release of an Iranian diplomat kidnapped last year.
Quoted in a newspaper on Monday, Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi urged Iran to stop supporting separatists in the south and religious groups in the north of Yemen as the country tries to stabilise following political upheaval that began in 2011.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, denied Tehran was meddling in Yemen affairs when asked about Hadi's comments, the state news agency IRNA reported.
Gulf Arab governments and Sunni clerical allies accuse regional Shi'ite Muslim power Iran of backing co-religionist communities around the region. The Houthis in northern Yemen are Zaidi, a sect that falls under Shi'ite Islam.
Yemen says that the Houthi rebel movement, which has periodically engaged in violent battles with the government for over a decade, is receiving funds and arms from Iran. Both the Houthis and Tehran have repeatedly denied having any links.
"Iran ... awaits immediate action by the Yemeni government for the release of the kidnapped Iranian diplomat," she said.
Afkham was referring to Noor Ahmad Nikbakht, an embassy official who was kidnapped in Sanaa last year and has been held since. Another Iranian diplomat was fatally wounded when he resisted gunmen who tried to kidnap him in January.
Kidnappings of foreigners in Yemen are common, often carried out by disgruntled tribesmen seeking to put pressure on the government to free jailed relatives or to improve public services, or by al Qaeda-linked militants.
(Reporting By Michelle Moghtader; Editing by Sami Aboudi and Raissa Kasolowsky)