There is uproar caused by Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri’s recent remarks, calling the country of Bahrain "Iran’s 14th province." The statement has moved Bahrain to suspend talks pertaining to purchase of liquid natural gas from Iran, and Arab states have been forced to issue statements and show reaction to Bahrain's mounting anger.
Ali Akbar Nateq Nouri is no stranger to Iranians. Since the very first moments Ayatollah Khomeini disembarked his Air France flight in 1979, when Nateq appeared by his side as one of his two young bodyguards, to today when he serves as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s Special Inspector, the man has been at the forefront of Iranian politics with his many posts including Speaker of the Parliament and Minister of Interior.
He is well-known for his down to earth rhetoric which frequently appears straight-forward and unchecked. Thirty years of training within the Islamic Republic of Iran’s top theocratic rule don’t seem to have provided Mr. Nouri with any special savvy nor diplomatic knowhow on how to face and handle news media in the 21st century. He continues to say what's on his mind without reservation.
Just as he broke into a Rozeh in the height of his presidential elections campaign in 1997, crying for Imam Hossein, a job many say he does quite well, he continues to think talking about foreign affairs of Iran is as easily managed as delivering a Rozeh. On the surface, his recent uttering has been irresponsible and out of tune with the already embattled position of Iran in the international diplomatic arena.
Iran and Bahrain have had a tumultuous relationship over the past 30 years. Much like other Arab countries of the region, Bahrain has been concerned about IRI’s interest to “export its revolution,” a strategy hardly concealed by IRI. Bahrain’s more than 70% Shiite population are a source of particular concern for the religious ties they might feel to Tehran. Bahrain has consistently claimed over the years that a group of dissidents inside Bahrain are supported and “fed” by Islamic Republic of Iran.
Since Ali Akbar Rafsanjani’s first presidential term in the late 1980’s IRI has made a conscious effort to improve its relations with Bahrain. The relations which had reached their best standing during the Khatami era, however, have taken a turn for worse since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in 2006. Recently, Hossein Shariatmadari’s anti-Bahrain article in Kayhan newspaper coincided with unrest inside Bahrain and Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki had to take a short trip to Manama specifically to apologize and to smooth Bahrain’s feathers in the wake of that attack.
With the growing negative rhetoric against IRI in Manama, supported today at the meeting of Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (CCAGS) in Riadh, IRI foreign diplomacy will have to work overtime to correct the dangerous course Iran has assumed after the Nateq Nouri remarks.
A major question begs to be asked. Since Bahrain’s independence was concurrent with (in a way conditional upon) Iran’s ownership of the three Persian Gulf islands, a source of dispute with UAE over the past several years, and not so coincidentally supported by the same CCAGS, what is Mr. Nateq Nouri really talking about here? Is Iran bringing up ownership of another country as a lame way to deal with what Tehran might be regarding as a fait accompli over the ownership of the three islands?
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