ROUNDUP: Morocco cuts diplomatic relations with Iran over Bahrain

ROUNDUP: Morocco cuts diplomatic relations with Iran over BahrainCairo  - Morocco announced on Friday that it is cutting diplomatic ties with Iran, following a dispute over the sovereignty of the Gulf state of Bahrain.

The move appears to be the culmination of a diplomatic row between Morocco and Iran over Tehran's alleged questioning of Bahrain`s independence.

The Moroccan Foreign Ministry said in a statement it made the decision effective as of Friday.

Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, an adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in February appeared to question Bahrain's sovereignty, saying that the Gulf island nation had earlier been Iran's "14th province."

Iran later issued a statement claiming Nateq-Nouri's statement was misunderstood, saying it was "committed" to Bahrain`s independence.

The remarks heightened tensions between Shiite Iran and much of the Sunni Muslim world, with Morocco taking the most offence to the declaration. Bahrain, despite having a Shiite majority population, is ruled by the Sunni Khalifa family.

The move appeared to be part of a gradually emerging regional opposition against Iran, according to Egyptian analyst Gamal Abdel- Gawad.

Last Tuesday, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the Arab League's foreign ministers meeting that a joint Arab policy is the only way to deal with the "Iranian challenge and the security of the Gulf region."

"It seems that Morocco, like many other Arab countries, is worried (by) Iran's increasing power," Abdel-Gawad told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

In late February, Morocco recalled its representative in Tehran for consultations over what it described as "inopportune expressions by an Iranian official."

Moroccan Foreign Minister Tayib Fassi Fihri informed Iran's ambassador that Morocco had been surprised over being singled out for Iranian protests after showing solidarity with Bahrain.

Morocco's solidarity with Bahrain was based on international law, Fassi Fihri insisted.

The Moroccan Football Federation announced on Thursday that it had cancelled the Atlas Lions' planned friendly with Iran, which was set to take place on April 1 in Barcelona.

"It seems that such powers as Morocco are preferring to face Iran with an attacking strategy," said Abdel-Gawad, noting that the North African country's geographical position allows it to play such a role when none of Bahrain's neighbours took such extreme decisions.

Gulf Arab countries are also concerned about Tehran's nuclear programme, which Iran insists is entirely peaceful.

"Gulf countries are closer to Iran; and the closer they are, the more danger they face and the more sensitive their position becomes. Bahrain's neighbours know they might pay a high price if they take such decisions because of their geographical ties," Abdel-Gawad concluded. (dpa)