IRANIAN officials in Bahrain yesterday distanced themselves from claims in one of the country's newspapers that Bahrain is part of Iran.The controversy has flared just as Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is due to visit Bahrain today.
Hussain Shariatmadari, adviser to the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, made the comments in the influential daily newspaper Kayhan on Monday.
The official, who is managing editor of the publication, claimed the main demand of Bahrainis was the return of the "province" of Bahrain to its motherland.
GCC Secretary-General Abdulrahman Al Attiyah immediately condemned the claims as hostile and false, saying they aimed to fuel sectarianism.
But Iran Embassy counsellor Aboulghasem Vafaei told the GDN yesterday that Mr Shariatmadari's views were not representative of his country's stance towards Bahrain.
"This kind of article has not come officially from Iran," he said.
"This is his personal view and we reject this.
"We respect Bahrain as an independent country, the leadership and its people."
Mr Vafaei was unable to answer why Shariatmadari made the claims, but insisted they did not reflect the opinion of the Iranian people.
"The people of Iran know Bahrain is an independent country and there are relations between us, including trade and tourism," he said.
"We are a friendly country and we are living with the people of Bahrain here."
Mr Vafaei said Mr Mottaki would give an "official explanation of our position".
"We are trying not to damage our relationship with neighbours," said the envoy.
Mr Vafaei said the Iranian government may take punitive action against Mr Shariatmadari for making comments that could create tension between the two countries.
Mr Mottaki's visit to Bahrain is unconnected to the dispute and is part of an effort to strengthen bilateral relations, although no details were available about who he will meet.
Bahrain's Shura Council earlier called for Iran to respect the principles of friendly ties bonding the countries and their peoples.
It also urged Iran to clarify its stance on the statements, while parliament's financial and economic committee member Latifa Al Qaoud said Bahrain was an Arab and Islamic country and had been so since the earliest times.