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Iran summons British envoy to protest against PM May's comments

Mainly Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies and Shia Iran are bitter regional rivals at odds over issues including wars in Syria, Yemen
British Prime Minister Theresa May (AFP/file photo)

Iran summoned the British ambassador on Saturday to protest against "interference" by Prime Minister Theresa May after she told Gulf leaders she would help counter the country's influence in the region.

Nicholas Hopton was told by a senior Iranian diplomat that "irresponsible, provocative and divisive comments by Theresa May at the summit are unacceptable and we reject them," foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said, quoted by state television's website.

"It is expected that such unacceptable remarks will not be made again."

Addressing a summit of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in Bahrain, May on Wednesday reaffirmed British support for traditional allies in the region, saying: "We must also work together to push back against Iran's aggressive regional actions, whether in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Syria or in the Gulf itself."

The mainly Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies and Shia Iran are bitter regional rivals, at odds over a range of issues including the wars in Syria and Yemen.

In a joint statement, GCC states and Britain agreed to a "strategic partnership" and said they "oppose and will work together to counter Iran's destabilising activities".

Iran and Britain reopened their respective embassies in 2015 after a nuclear deal with world powers, following four years of strained ties. 

The two states appointed ambassadors in September for the first time since 2011.

Ghasemi said May's remarks to the GCC summit went against the development of normal relations "and damage mutual ties".

He added that while Iran's regional policies are based on peace and security, "it is unfortunate and surprising that British officials and the prime minister have failed to note that some countries in the region pursue a clear policy of supporting terrorism".

The foreign ministry quoted Hopton as saying Britain's policy towards Iran was to develop ties and that he would communicate Tehran's "clear message" to May's office.

The state television website also quoted Iran's first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, as pouring scorn on Gulf leaders.

They invited May "to say a few words against Iran there. These desolates don't think about the extent to which they are humiliating their own nations," Jahangiri said.

"Iran is the senior country in the region. To bring someone from the other side of the world to utter some meddlesome and irrelevant words about Iran, what does that say?

"Do you think you can match Iran and harm its security?"

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