ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Gulf Arab governments dismissed as “interference” an Iranian suggestion that unrest in Syria and Bahrain be discussed at nuclear talks between world powers and Iran, accusing Tehran of trying to dodge the main agenda.
The secretary general of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) said the bloc “categorically rejected” Iran’s proposal, saying it was further evidence of Iranian meddling in the region, the Bahraini news agency BNA reported on Thursday.
“This confirms Iran’s clear interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries, and its continuous efforts to destabilize the security of some of these Arab countries,” Abdulatif al-Zayani was quoted by BNA as saying.
Arab popular uprisings since 2011 have kindled increased strife between Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims that Sunni-ruled Gulf states with restive Shi‘ite communities blame on incitement from regional Shi‘ite power Iran, which denies the accusation.
The GCC is a U.S.-allied, political and economic bloc comprising Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
The GCC is not represented at the intermittent and so far inconclusive talks six world powers are conducting with Iran to try to get it to rein in its disputed nuclear energy program.
BNA further quoted Zayani as accusing Iran of trying to manipulate the negotiations “by mixing political cards” and continuing “procrastination and non-seriousness on reaching a final solution to alleviate regional and international fears regarding its controversial nuclear program”.
Zayani, according to BNA, urged the six powers to “reject these provocative Iranian attempts”.
Western diplomats have accused Iran in the past of avoiding the main point of the negotiations by trying to have the agenda widened to cover general security and economic issues.
The next negotiating session is to be held in Kazakhstan on February 26. The West fears Iran is pursuing the means to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says it seeks only civilian atomic energy.
The semi-official Iranian news agency Mehr said on Tuesday Tehran had proposed including Bahrain - which is grappling with unrest by majority Shi‘ites - and Syria - where an increasingly sectarian civil war is raging - in the talks with world powers.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has proposed as a suggestion to Western countries that the crisis in Syria and Bahrain be among the issues discussed in negotiations in Kazakhstan,” Mehr quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi as saying.
Bahrain had summoned Iran’s charge d‘affaires over the statement, BNA said.
The GCC routinely accuses Iran of interfering in the region, primarily in Bahrain where the Sunni-dominated government has been struggling since 2011 to suppress pro-democracy agitation led mainly by the kingdom’s Shi‘ites.
Iran denies trying to stir trouble in Bahrain or to subvert any of its other wealthy Gulf Arab neighbors. Tehran also says it regards the Gulf as its geo-political backyard and that it has a legitimate right to advance its interests there.
Reporting By Raissa Kasolowsky; Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian, Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich