Tensions between Iran and Kuwait heat up after parliament speaker meets Ahwazi Arab separatist leader

Tensions between Iran and Kuwait heat up after parliament speaker meets Ahwazi Arab separatist leader
Iran has called in Kuwait’s envoy after the Kuwaiti parliament speaker met with a leader of a group which wants to establish a separate state in an Arab-majority Iranian province.
3 min read
29 December, 2019
Kuwaiti speaker of parliament Marzouk Ghanem (centre) met Ahwazi separatist leader Hakim al-Kaabi (left) [Twitter]
Iran summoned Kuwait's envoy to Tehran on Saturday to protest its officials meeting ethnically Arab Iranian dissidents and holding an "anti-Iran meeting”.

The head of the Iranian foreign ministry's Gulf affairs department, addressing Kuwait's charge d'affaires, condemned the meeting and emphasised the importance of "mutual respect".

"Such actions are a clear interference in the internal affairs of the Islamic Republic of Iran and a violation of the principle of good neighbourly relations and friendly statements from Kuwaiti officials," the Kuwaiti envoy was told, according to the statement.

The comments came after a delegation from the Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of Ahwaz (ASMLA), an insurgent group which is fighting to establish a separate state in the Arab-majority area of Khuzestan (also known as Ahwaz) in Iran, recently visited Kuwait and met with the speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, Marzouk Ghanem, according to Iranian news agencies.

ASMLA was founded by Iranian Arab exiles in Europe in 1999 and has been engaged in militant activities against the Iranian state since 2005. According to Amnesty International, Ahwazi Arabs suffer discrimination, arbitrary restrictions and even secret assassinations.

A conference took place in the Kuwaiti parliament entitled “Parliamentarians for Ahwaz” with the goal of setting up a network in the Arab world to gain support for the Ahwazi issue.

On Sunday, in an apparent effort to calm tensions, Kuwait's deputy foreign minister Khaled al-Jarallah met with Iran's ambassador to Kuwait and said that Kuwait respects "the Islamic Republic of Iran's territorial integrity."

The Iranian Mehr News Agency said that Ghanem had presented the Kuwaiti parliament’s shield to an ASMLA official, Hakim al-Kaabi, in the presence of another Kuwaiti parliamentarian, Abdullah Fahad Al-Enzi, who is close to the Muslim Brotherhood. The news agency said that Al-Enzi had organised the meeting.

However Al-Enzi said that Ghanem and al-Kaabi did not discuss Iran or Ahwaz in their meeting, but only al-Kaabi’s forthcoming Ph.D. thesis, which deals with political life in Kuwait.

Another member of the Kuwaiti parliament, Saleh Ashour, said on Twitter that Ghanem “has to clarify his reasons for meeting Mr. Kaabi, the representative of a separatist Ahwazi movement, because strong and strategic friendly ties link us to the Islamic Republic of Iran and this position damages the relationship between [our] two countries.”

Jarallah told Iran's ambassador that the meeting took place without permission from relevant Kuwaiti authorities, the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA reported, adding that competent officials have "begun taking necessary legal measures" over the "disappointing" affair, which was undertaken in a "private" capacity.

Tehran and Kuwait have had relatively good relations in recent years despite tensions between Iran and other Gulf Arab states.

Kuwait greatly reduced its diplomatic presence in Tehran in 2016 after Saudi Arabia completely severed relations with Iran, but it kept a charge d'affaires and two officials.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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