MANAMA, Bahrain (AP) — Bahrain's foreign minister on Sunday urged Iran's newly elected president to seek the withdrawal of Tehran-backed Hezbollah fighters from Syria as a gesture to try to ease the civil war there.
The appeal by Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, during meetings between the European Union and Gulf Arab foreign ministers, showed the widening shadow of Syria's 27-month conflict that has spilled across borders, involving Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey in varying degrees.
Bahrain and other Arab states have been highly critical of the intervention by Lebanon-based Hezbollah on behalf of the regime of Syria's President Bashar Assad, who is Iran's main regional ally. Bahrain has outlawed contact with Hezbollah, which it claims aids fellow Shiite groups in an Arab Spring-inspired uprising against the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain. More than 60 people have died in Bahrain's unrest since February 2011.
"The situation is critical in Syria, and we hope that Iran takes a serious steps to withdraw the foreign troops in Syria, specifically Hezbollah and other militias," Sheik Khalid told reporters at the gathering in the Gulf nation's capital, Manama. He welcomed the election of Hasan Rouhani as president of Iran and hope it could "open a new page" in Tehran's relations with the region.
Iran's president, however, has little sway over major policymaking, such as strategies in Syria or relations with Hezbollah. All Iran's key decisions rest with the ruling clerics and the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
Bahrain's Gulf partners, led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, also have urged for stepped up weapons shipments to Syrian rebels, whose fight has drawn in some guerrillas from across the Muslim world. However, the emergence of Al-Qaida-linked groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra, or the Nusra Front, has fuelled Western reluctance to supply heavy weapons to the opposition.