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Iran Says Comments On Bahrain Misunderstood

TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran has said reports that an Iranian official had questioned Bahrain's sovereignty had been misunderstood and misinterpreted.

According to media reports, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, an adviser to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said earlier this month that Iran had sovereignty over the kingdom.

Gulf Arab states called on Iran on February 22 to condemn the remarks, which Bahrain's interior minister earlier rejected as irresponsible.

"That was a speech which caused misunderstanding and there were some misinterpretations," Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told a news conference on February 23, without elaborating.

Iran's relations with Bahrain are "based on mutual respect," Qashqavi said.

Iran has denied having claims over Bahrain but the tensions have underscored the suspicions between Sunni-ruled Gulf Arab states and non-Arab, Shi'ite Muslim Iran.

Gulf Arab states are concerned about spreading Iranian influence in Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip and its potential effect on their own Shi'ite communities.

Bahrain, which has a sizable Shi'ite Muslim population, has halted talks with Iran over natural gas imports over the reported comments and Bahrain's foreign minister summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest earlier in February.

Qashqavi said the gas contract would be valuable for both Iran and Bahrain and both sides wanted to see it implemented.

He said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki "insisted on the improvement of mutual relations" in talks with his Bahraini counterpart Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa. He did not say when they had held talks.

The late shah of Iran relinquished Iran's claim to Bahrain in 1970, a year before the island on the other side of the Gulf became an independent state.

Iranian leaders have carefully avoided raising the Bahrain issue since the 1979 Islamic revolution although it is occasionally brought up in the press during periods of tension with conservative Arab states across the Gulf.