Kuwait is reportedly ready to boot out a number of Iranian diplomats for alleged links to a spy ring working for Tehran in the latest spat in ties between Sunni Arab Gulf states and Shiite Iran.
According to Kuwait's foreign minister Mohammed Sabah, a number of Iranian diplomats are to be expelled for alleged spying that reportedly dates back to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"There will be action against a group of Iranian diplomats.... They will be considered persona non grata and expelled from Kuwait," he was quoted as telling reporters in Kuwait on Thursday.
Tehran slammed the claims as baseless, and Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said the Islamic republic was not meddling in Kuwaiti affairs, according to Iranian state media.
Arab Gulf media reports say that Kuwait has recalled its ambassador to Iran for consultations.
Ties between Arab Gulf countries and Iran appear to becoming increasingly strained since the wave of Arab protests reached Iran's Shiite neighbor Bahrain where the Sunni government's security forces crushed the mainly Shiite-led protest movement last month.
The crisis in Bahrain quickly transformed into a regional standoff between Sunni Gulf Arab states and Shiite Iran with both sides throwing accusations at each other.
Authorities in Bahrain have accused Iran of meddling in its affairs, and some Sunni monarchies have sent troops to Bahrain, a move that has drawn stark criticism from Iran.
On Thursday, an Iranian parliamentary panel warned Riyadh that it was "playing with fire" by contributing troops to the joint military force in Bahrain.
The kingdom fired back, urging Iran to mind its own business and to not interfere in the affairs of Gulf states. A Saudi government official called the statement "irresponsible" and condemned it "in the most strongest words," reported the state-run Saudi news agency SPA on Friday.
News about Kuwait planning to oust Iranian diplomats came two days after a Kuwait City court sentenced two Iranian nationals and a Kuwaiti to death for spying for Tehran. All three had served in Kuwait's army at the time of their arrest in 2010. Sabah alleged that the Iranian diplomats were connected to the spy ring.
A Syrian national and a stateless Arab were given life terms at the conclusion of the trial while two Iranians were acquitted.
Salehi dismissed the allegations by Kuwaiti court, saying the death sentence rulings were part of a "plot," reported Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency.
"Focusing on an outdated issue by a Kuwaiti court and attributing it to the Islamic Republic of Iran is a plot being pursued by those who are jealous of Iran's good and friendly relations with Kuwait," Fars quoted Salehi as saying.
The court heard charges that the spy ring had given secret military information and taken photographs of military sites in Kuwait and spied for the Islamic Republic.
Local media said the men confessed to having taken pictures of Kuwaiti and U.S. military sites for Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, but the defendants reportedly denied the charges in court and stressed they were tortured to confess, according to Agence France-Presse.
Oil-rich Kuwait has a sizaeble Shiite population.
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut
Photo: Kuwaiti foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed Sabah. Credit: Agence France-Presse