TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran on Wednesday rejected as “baseless” allegations by Gulf Arab states that Tehran is interfering in their internal affairs, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“Shifting the regional states’ responsibility in regards to their domestic problems is to escape realities on the ground,” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted as saying.

His comments came a day after the six Gulf Cooperation Council states - Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates - in a joint statement, said they “reject and denounce” Iran’s “continued interference” in their internal affairs.

The GCC statement added that Tehran must “immediately and completely stop these actions and policies that increase regional tension and threaten security and stability”.

Relations between the Shia-dominated Iran and most Sunni-ruled GCC states have been strained since Gulf troops rolled into Bahrain last year to help put down Shia-led protests.

“Attributing these problems to outside (countries) or using oppressive methods are not a correct way of responding to popular demands,” Mehmanparast said, referring to the events in the Sunni-ruled but Shia-majority Bahrain.

The GCC had in its Tuesday statement also condemned Iran’s “continued occupation of the three Gulf islands” of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates since 1970s.

Mehmanparast said the UAE’s sovereignty over the islands was a “baseless claim” and stressed that the three islands are an “inseparable part of Iran”.

The petro-Gulf-Arab states also expressed concern that any accident at Iran’s nuclear plant located at the Gulf port city of Bushehr would spread radiation throughout the region.

In reply, Mehmanparast said the power plant has been built to “high-level international standards.” Iran is at odds with the United States and its allies, which accuse the Islamic state of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its atomic work is solely geared for peaceful purposes.

Turkey will keep buying natural gas from neighbouring Iran as Western allies raise pressure over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said. “It is out of question for us to take a step backward,” Yildiz was quoted as saying by the Anatolia news agency. “Furthermore, we have not been asked to take such a step.”Iran is Turkey’s second biggest natural gas supplier after Russia, and Yildiz said that Tehran supplies 18-20 percent of the gas that Turkey consumes.

On November 30, the US Senate unanimously approved new economic sanctions aimed at further crippling Iran’s energy, shipping and port sectors a year after the Congress passed tough restrictions against Tehran.

The latest US proposal is expected to sail through the US House of Representatives and be signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Iran’s economy is struggling to cope with tightening sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union over the past two years.

An EU measure which took effect in July halted European purchases of Iranian crude oil, and has since caused Tehran’s oil exports to Asian customers to decline by between 10-30 percent.On December 7 however, the United States extended exemptions from sanctions designed to choke Iran’s oil exports to nine major economic powers, including Turkey, China, Taiwan, India and South Korea.

Yildiz noted on Wednesday that the Turkish oil refiner TUPRAS has continued to import crude oil from Iran.

“Unlike some European countries, Turkey is not a country which imports three-five percent of its needs from Iran,” the minister explained in a reference to crude oil shipments.

“Last year, Turkey met almost half of its needs from Iran. It is an important source of imports therefore.”

Yildiz added that Turkey had bought more oil from Libya, Saudi Arabia and Russia to make up for declining crude imports from Iran due to US-EU sanctions.