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Iran ambassador to remain in Kuwait as ties downgraded

TEHRAN/KUWAIT: Iran said yesterday it was disappointed at Kuwait’s decision to reduce the number of Iranian diplomats in the country, but said its ambassador would remain. Kuwait announced last week that 15 Iranian diplomats would have to leave within six weeks in response to the conviction of a “terror” cell with alleged links to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. “We did not expect this from Kuwait,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said, according to the IRNA news agency.


“We have always maintained positive relations with Kuwait in the…Gulf region. The action by the country was not nice… but we can still continue conversations and contacts,” he added. Ghasemi confirmed that Iran’s ambassador would remain in Kuwait, a question which had remained unclear when the move was announced on Thursday. Kuwait also told Iran’s cultural and military missions to shut down, following the court case. Iran responded to the expulsions by filing a complaint with the Kuwaiti charge d’affaires.


Kuwait’s cassation court last week convicted 21 people of belonging to a cell trained and formed by the Revolutionary Guards – an allegation which Iran said was “baseless”. Kuwait, which has a sizeable Shiite majority, has had tense relations with Iran, although it has tried to act more as a mediator in regional disputes. Kuwait greatly reduced its diplomatic presence in Tehran last year after its ally Saudi Arabia completely severed relations with Iran, although it kept a charge d’affaires and two officials.


Meanwhile, Islamist opposition MP Waleed Al-Tabtabaei submitted a draft law proposing jail terms of up to 20 years for supporters and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group and called to declare the group as a terrorist organization. The draft law declares that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. It stipulates a jail term of between 10 and 20 years for any Kuwaiti for joining or expressing any form of loyalty with Hezbollah and for those who establish any group or association that belongs to or supports Hezbollah.


It proposes a jail term of up to five years for those who use any logo or symbol of Hezbollah. The penalty also applies to those who support or promote Hezbollah through the media and social networks. The draft law also calls for banning the entry of members of Hezbollah into Kuwait. The legislation comes days after Kuwait lodged an official protest to the Lebanese government after the conviction of the 21 Kuwaiti Shiites of joining Hezbollah and undergoing military training at the group’s camps in Lebanon.


Kuwait called on the Lebanese government to take all necessary measures to curb Hezbollah’s practices, since the organization has ministers in the Lebanese cabinet. Tabtabaei said the draft law came following the cassation court’s conviction that the terror cell were members of Hezbollah and that they underwent specialized military training, especially for the use of explosives.


The court ruling, which was released yesterday, said large quantities of arms, ammunition and explosives were seized from the terror cell. The weapons included hundreds of hand grenades and machineguns, several tonnes of ammunition and a number of missiles. The ruling also detailed how Iran and Hezbollah established the cell, providing them with training and helped them smuggle large quantities of explosives by sea from Iran.


It also said that members of the cell held meetings with Iranian intelligence officers, acting as diplomats, at the Iranian Embassy in Kuwait City and with the Revolutionary Guard in Iran. The draft law must be approved by National Assembly panels and later in the Assembly by voting and has to be accepted by the government to become law.


By B Izzak, Staff Columnist and Agencies


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