Iran and neighboring Arab countries find themselves increasingly at odds as both sides are engaged in rhetoric that underscores their deep-seated differences.
Amid the persisting rivalries, the Gulf Cooperation Council of the Arab States condemned Iran on Friday for what they called “false” claims that prisoners were being treated badly in Bahrain, a long-time target of Iranian propaganda.
Hours earlier, Iran decried a statement issued at the end of the 157th session of the GCC Ministerial Council in the Saudi capital on Thursday about the “joint ownership” by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait of the maritime Arash/Al-Dorra (Al-Durra) oil and gas field.
The GCC’s foreign ministers cited the principles of the UN Charter on “good neighborliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of states,” calling on officials in Iran “to investigate accuracy and not rely on incorrect information.”
Manama itself had earlier rejected Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani’s claim that “unfavorable” jail conditions in Bahrain had led to a hunger strike by some 800 prisoners. Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Iran should “be more accurate and not to be misled by false information that harms relations between the two countries.”
A Reuters report quoted Bahrain’s General Directorate of Reform and Rehabilitation as saying that the number of detainees who have reported being on hunger strike had at no time gone beyond 124 and that their complaints were being addressed. The Bahraini body said the hunger strikers are provided with access to medical check-ups daily and none of them have required critical care or hospitalization. “Any claims to the contrary are false,” it said. “They reviewed a number of demands made by some inmates and submitted a detailed report to the relevant authorities,” Bahrain’s foreign ministry said.
The other issue of contention is a gas and oil field in the northwestern tip of the Persian Gulf straddling the maritime boundaries of Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The two Arab states in recent months have been rejecting Iranian claims over the field and planning joint exploration. The GCC Ministerial Council’s rebuke over the issue was part of their comprehensive statement that rejected “any claims that any other party has rights in this field or the submerged area adjacent to the area divided by its designated borders between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Kuwait.”
The joint offshore field — called Arash in Iran and Durra by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — was discovered in 1967 and is estimated to have a total proven reserves of around 310 million barrels of oil and 20 trillion cubic feet of gas. Iran claims any development without its consent breaks international laws, and insists that 40 percent of the field located in its territorial waters. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait insist that Iran has no share in the field and the precise demarcation of the territorial waters can prove that. The disputed maritime field in the Persian Gulf has become a litmus test for the recent détente between Tehran and Riyadh as controversies surrounding it escalate.
“The ownership of the natural resources in the submerged area adjacent to the Saudi-Kuwaiti divided zone, including the entire Al Durra field, is joint ownership between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the State of Kuwait only, and they alone have full rights to exploit the wealth in that area,” the GCC statement said.
In March last year, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia started projects to extract gas from the field. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman at the time, Saeed Khatibzadeh said that as Iran has a share in the field it must be included in any action to operate and develop it. “The Arash/Al-Durra gas field is a joint field between Iran, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Parts of it are located in areas between Iran and Kuwait whose water boundaries have not been defined,” he said.
Kanaani said on Friday, “The Persian Gulf littoral states should utilize the resources and subsoil of the Persian Gulf based on goodwill and historical rights in line with the common interests of the nations.”
He also dismissed the GCC claims about the three Iranian islands of Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb, and the Lesser Tunb in the Persian Gulf, describing them as an “eternal and integral” part of the Iranian territory. He said any claim about their ownership have no “political or legal value.”
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has repeatedly emphasized its territorial integrity and sovereignty over the three Iranian islands based on accepted principles and rules of international law,” the regime’s spokesman said.