Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is not known for rushing to visit Arab Gulf states on short notice.

His July 14 trip to Manama, the capital of Bahrain, was thus a rare moment in contemporary Iranian history. The occasion, formally to meet his counterpart Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, intended to appease the Bahraini ire over a grave diplomatic crisis.

Were Mottaki's assurances enough to end this latest predicament or is the revival of a dormant territorial claim a harbinger of more difficult times ahead?

On July 9, Hossein Shariatmadari, the influential editor of the daily Kayhan, penned an editorial reviving settled Iranian territorial claims to Bahrain. According to Shariatmadari, Bahrain's independence was recognised by the Shah of Iran in 1971 under questionable circumstances and should, therefore, be rectified.

In an even shoddier revelation, he recorded that Bahraini public opinion favoured a reunification of the Iranian "province" with the "native land", without informing his readers how he acquired such kernel.

In fact, Persian claims to Bahrain were noted from time to time, particularly after a ruler in Manama signed treaties or granted concessions to companies involved in oil exploration.

British occupying forces lodged various protests through their ubiquitous "political residents" until the mid-1950s when more concrete steps were adopted.

It may be worth reminding those who prefer to forget historical developments that Bahrain's identity was formally recognised by the League of Arab States on December 11, 1954 and reaffirmed in 1957, following reports that Iran was contemplating an annexation.

Moreover, when Tehran declared that Bahrain was Iran's 14th Province in 1958 and that, as such, was entitled to two seats in its Majlis, no Bahraini "parliamentarian" bothered to attend. Differences were sharpened after the 1968 British declaration to formally withdraw its occupation forces no later than 1971.

At the time, Mohammad Reza Shah, Iran's last reigning Pahlavi ruler agreed to a UN Commission, which was called upon to determine Bahrain's distinctiveness.

Tehran declared that it would abide by the Commission's decision.

Vittorio Winspeace Guicciardi, the personal representative of the secretary-general reported on May 11, 1970 to the UN Security Council that "the overwhelming majority of the people of Bahrain whish[ed] to gain recognition of their identity in a fully independent and sovereign state, free to decide for itself its relations with other states."

This fact-finding report prompted the Shah to ask the Majlis, and senate, to ratify the UN endorsement. On May 14, 1970, that is within three days of the Security Council's adoption of a resolution - perhaps one of the fastest implementations in UN Security Council history - both the Majlis and Senate approved.

These legislative decisions indicated that Iran formally renounced its long-standing claims to Bahrain, and the late Shaikh Eissa Bin Salman Al Khalifah paid a "state visit" between December 19 and 24, 1970, to lay goodwill foundations that lasted all these years.

Shariatmadari is thus wrong to conclude that the Shah, who acted legally for Iran, recognised Bahrain's sovereignty under questionable circumstances because the government of Iran recognised the referendum.

That is why an embarrassed Mottaki wished to quickly smooth ties and stifle the appropriate tumult that surrounded the latest absurd claims.

Moreover, and herein lies a clear warning to all Gulf states. The episode illustrated how far Iran was willing to go in 2007 to flex its hegemonic muscle even if its real target may have been something other than Bahrain.

If in hindsight, the Shah did not press the Bahrain sovereignty issue because he wished to reinforce his overall position in the Gulf, Shariatmadari linked close Gulf Cooperation Council-Western ties as the source of his indignation.

Under the circumstances, and if Iran is embarked on a competition with the US for regional influence, rekindling a settled territorial question that resulted in a blunder, only earned the fury of Bahrainis and their Arab Gulf allies.

This was not just provocation that necessitated an apology, but a clear illustration of not very good neighbourly relations.

Played down

Although Shaikh Khalid played down the entire episode, calling it a "misunderstanding" fuelled by the media, and while Mottaki restated that "Iran ha[d] no expansionist ambitions and respect[ed] the independence and liberty of all Arab states," few were reassured.

Many remembered the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, particularly after the failed 1981 coup attempt in Manama that may have been Iranian-inspired.

GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah was thus correct when he concluded that the poor effort was an attempt to undermine Arab Gulf sovereignty, insisting that such "hostile claims ... aimed at fuelling sectarianism [and] chaos". It was an unusual mistake for otherwise well-honed Iranian diplomats.

Dr Joseph A. Kechichian is a commentator and author of several books on Gulf affairs.