DUBAI -- Iran’s foreign minister began a charm offensive in the Gulf Sunday to defend a nuclear deal seen by some Arab states as heralding greater Iranian support for armed groups and governments opposed to the hereditary monarchies. Most Gulf Arab states are worried that Iran’s July 14 accord with world powers will hasten detente between Tehran and Washington, emboldening the Islamic Republic to increase backing for Middle Eastern allies at odds with Gulf Arab countries.
The minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, began a one-day, three-country tour by visiting Kuwait. He was due to go on to Qatar and Iraq.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, accompanying Zarif, said the goal of this visit was “strengthening ties and developing cooperation is all the fields” with Iran’s neighbors. “The fight against extremism and violence as well as strengthening regional ties are a fundamental necessity to achieve sustainable development and security in the region,” Amir-Abdollahian told Iran’s state news broadcaster.
Most Sunni Muslim-ruled Gulf Arab states have long accused Tehran of interference in Arab affairs, alleging financial or armed support for political movements in countries including Bahrain, Lebanon and Yemen.
Shiite power Iran denies interference but says the nuclear deal will not change its policies in the region.
Ahead of his Gulf visit, Zarif said in a statement posted on his ministry’s website late Friday that Tehran would continue supporting its allies in Iraq and Syria to fight against the militant Islamic State group.
Echoing that message in a speech Sunday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on a visit to Iran’s Kurdistan province: “The Iranian nation supports all oppressed nations. … If it wasn’t for Iran, Erbil and Baghdad would have also fallen to the terrorists [of Islamic State] ... Just as we defended Dahuk, Erbil and Sulaymaniyah [in Iraqi Kurdistan], if any country in the whole region is a victim of aggression, the Iranian nation will defend the oppressed.”
Bahrain said Saturday it had foiled an arms-smuggling plot by two Bahrainis with ties to Iran and announced the recall of the Gulf island kingdom’s ambassador to Tehran for consultations after what it said were repeated hostile Iranian statements.
Commenting on the allegation, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hassan Ghashghavi noted Bahrain’s government disagreed with Iran’s “support of oppressed people in their country. … However, we will continue doing so, and we insist that the oppressed people of Bahrain need attention.”
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin Nouri; Editing by William Maclean and Ros Russell)