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Iran cell planned attacks in Kuwait, minister says

KUWAIT (Reuters) - Kuwait’s foreign minister said an Iranian spy cell uncovered by the Gulf Arab state last year monitored the U.S. military presence and possessed explosives to bomb “strategic” facilities. “We are talking about a cell whose task was not only to monitor and record the (U.S.) military presence that is in their view hostile -- the American forces presence on Kuwait lands -- but it exceeded that,” Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah told Dubai-based Al Arabiya television.

Kuwait's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah addresses the 62nd United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2007. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

“They had explosives and the intention to explode vital Kuwaiti facilities. They had names of officers and they had extremely sensitive information. This indicates bad intentions to harm Kuwaiti security.”

OPEC-member Kuwait hosts Camp Arifjan, a vast U.S. logistics base in the desert south of the capital that serves as a staging post for U.S. forces being deployed in neighboring Iraq.

The United States has air and naval installations in Gulf Arab states, some of which are little more than 200 km (120 miles) from Iran’s coast. The U.S. Central Command keeps its forward headquarters in Qatar while Bahrain hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.

Last month, a Kuwaiti court sentenced two Iranians and a Kuwaiti to death for being part of an alleged Iranian spy ring in a case that has strained relations between Kuwait and the Islamic Republic.

Earlier this month, Iran expelled three Kuwaiti diplomats in a tit-for-tat move after the Gulf emirate said it would throw out three Iranian diplomats in a row over spy allegations.

The move came after Kuwait expelled three Iranian diplomats, a Kuwaiti official had said.

Kuwaiti media said in May 2010 that authorities had detained a number of people, Kuwaitis and foreigners, suspected of engaging in espionage for Iran. Media reports said they were accused of gathering information on Kuwaiti and U.S. military sites for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

But Sheikh Mohammad said Kuwait still wants good relations with Iran. “We completely reject severing ties (with Iran),” he said, although he added that Iran needs to treat Gulf Cooperation Council states as “sovereign” and not “subordinate.”

Iran’s relations with its U.S.-allied Gulf Arab neighbors, who offer various facilities to U.S. forces, have soured since popular uprisings were suppressed by government forces.

Sunni Muslim-ruled Gulf Arab states accused Shi’ite power Iran of interfering in their affairs after Tehran objected to the dispatch of Saudi and UAE troops to help Bahrain put down protests by its Shi’ite majority in March.

Reporting by Mahmoud Habboush; Writing by Eman Goma; Editing by Mark Heinrich