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Iran Relations with Regional Powers
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Although the shah had been unpopular among the rulers of the six states on the Arab side of the Persian Gulf, the Revolution in Iran, nevertheless, was a shock to them. Iran under the shah had been the main guarantor of political stability in the region. Under the Republic, Iran was promising to be the primary promoter of revolution. All six countries--Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)--were ruled by hereditary monarchs who naturally feared the new rhetoric from Tehran. Indeed, during the first year following the Revolution, throughout the Gulf region numerous acts of political sabotage and violence occurred, claiming inspiration from the Iranian example. The most sensational of these was the assault by Muslim dissidents on the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Other clashes occurred between groups of local Shias and security forces in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain.

    The outbreak of war between Iran and Iraq further alarmed the Persian Gulf Arab states. In 1981 they joined together in a collective defense alliance known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Although the GCC announced its neutrality with respect to the Iran-Iraq War, Iran perceived its formation as part of the Iraqi war effort and generally was hostile toward it. The GCC for its part suspected Iran of supporting antigovernment groups throughout the Persian Gulf. These concerns were heightened in December 1981, when authorities in Bahrain announced the discovery of a clandestine group that had plans to carry out sabotage and terrorist acts as part of an effort to overthrow the government; several of the plotters had links to Iranian clerics. In December 1983, a series of bombings occurred in Kuwait, including incidents at the American and French embassies; the Arab nationals who were captured and charged with these acts of terrorism were members of an Iraqi Shia movement, Ad Dawah, that was headquartered in Tehran. In May 1985, a suicide driver unsuccessfully tried to kill the ruler of Kuwait.

    Despite GCC suspicions of Iranian involvement in subversive activities, until 1987 more cooperation than confrontation was found between Iran and the GCC members. In general, Iran avoided dealing with the GCC as an entity, preferring to ignore its existence and to treat each country separately. Iran's relations with the six component states varied from friendliness to hostility. For example, Iran and the UAE maintained relatively cordial relations. The political ties between the two countries were reinforced by economic ties. An Iranian mercantile community in the UAE was concentrated in Dubayy, a city that emerged--following the destruction of Khorramshahr--as an important transit center where international goods destined for Iran were offloaded into smaller boats capable of entering small Iranian fishing towns that served as ports of entry despite their lack of docking facilities. In Bahrain, where the ruling family was Sunni Muslim and a majority of the population was Shia, lingering suspicions of Iranian intentions did not inhibit the government from improving diplomatic relations with Tehran. Because there were no outstanding issues between Iran and Qatar, relations between them were generally correct.

    Iran's relations with the other three GCC members--Kuwait, Oman, and Saudi Arabia--have been more complex and, throughout the early and mid-1980s, have been characterized by alternating periods of tension and mutual accommodation. For example, immediately after the Revolution, Iranian propaganda singled out the sultan of Oman as an example of the kind of "un-Islamic tyrant" who should be overthrown. This hostility sprang from the revolutionaries' perception of the Omani ruler as having been a close friend of the shah. Iran's view had developed in the 1970s when the shah sent military assistance, including an Iranian military contingent, to help the sultan crush a long-term rebellion. More significant, however, the Iranian leaders regarded the sultan as subservient to the United States. They denounced his policies of supporting the Camp David accords, providing facilities for American air crews who attempted the unsuccessful rescue of the hostages in April 1980, signing an agreement for American military use of the air base on Masirah Island, and discussing with the United States construction of an airfield on the Musandam Peninsula overlooking the Strait of Hormuz. Oman generally refrained from responding to Iranian charges and consequently avoided an escalation of the verbal barrages. Despite the many areas of friction, tensions between Iran and Oman gradually abated after 1981. The movement toward more correct diplomatic relations culminated in 1987 with a state visit of the Omani foreign minister to Iran. Iran's relations with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were strained because both of these countries provided major financial support to Iraq after the Iran-Iraq War began. In addition, Iran accused them of providing logistical assistance for Iraqi bombing raids on Iranian oil installations. For their part, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait believed that Iran supported subversive activities among their Shia minorities. They also resented Iranian attacks on their shipping. Saudi Arabia annually confronted embarrassing incidents during the pilgrimage season when Iranians tried to stage political demonstrations. Nevertheless, both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait made efforts to seek a rapprochement with Iran in 1985 and 1986. The Saudi efforts were more successful and resulted in an exchange of visits of the Saudi and Iranian foreign ministers in 1985. The Saudis and Iranians also began to cooperate in some areas of mutual interest, such as international oil policy. In contrast, relations between Kuwait and Iran did not improve significantly. In the fall of 1986, Iran began to single out Kuwait's ships for retaliatory attacks, and this led to a worsening of diplomatic relations.

    Political tensions between Tehran and Kuwait increased significantly after the United States agreed to reflag Kuwaiti oil tankers. Iran accused Kuwait and its neighbors, especially Saudi Arabia, of being mere puppets of the "Great Satan." During the pilgrimage to Mecca in the summer of 1987, Iran encouraged the pilgrims--150,000 of whom had come from Iran--to demonstrate against the United States and the corrupt rulers of the Gulf. More than 400 pilgrims, including at least 300 Iranians, were killed in a stampede in Mecca when Saudi security forces attempted to break up a demonstration.

    Data as of December 1987

    NOTE: The information regarding Iran on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Iran Relations with Regional Powers information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Iran Relations with Regional Powers should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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