Jordan monarch asserts seriousness about reforms to U.S. Congress delegation

Bahrain expels Iranian diplomat

Dubai police stop Saada-bound shipment of weapons

King Abdullah II said that Jordan has embarked on comprehensive reforms to achieve a better future for its people.

He told a delegation of the Near East South Asia NESA centre for strategic studies, a U.S. government institution for building relationships and understanding, that he would continue to lead the reform effort, which he said is on the right track, "to achieve the aspired-for results with the cooperation of all." The King referred to a vigorous debate underway at a newly-formed National Dialogue Committee on the elections and political parties draft laws to try to hammer out new legislation that he hoped would boost the Kingdom's modernization and development process.

He expressed hope that the panel would come up with new legislation to ensure better representation for all social segments and lead to setting up political parties with clear agendas to help address social and economic challenges.

King Abdullah also told the U.S. team that the Middle East peace process remained one of the region's top issues and priorities, warning that keeping the Palestinian issue unresolved would exacerbate tension and deepen regional instability.

He urged intensified U.S. and world efforts to bring the Palestinians and Israel back to the negotiating table in order to make tangible progress and remove obstacles to arrive at the two-state solution, a Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel.

The delegation hailed Jordan's reform drive, which they said reflected a real will to achieve development in various fields.

The Washington-based NESA center fosters open communication and educational opportunities for military and civilian representatives from the NESA region and other participating countries.

The centre is currently holding a seminar in Amman entitled: "The United States and the Region, adapting with changes in a strategic environment."

Meanwhile, Bahrain has ordered the expulsion of an Iranian diplomat for alleged links to a spy ring in fellow Gulf Arab state Kuwait, state media said, in a further deterioration of relations with Tehran.

The kingdom also sought criminal charges against 30 health ministry staff, extending a crackdown against public employees suspected of participating in pro-democracy protests that Bahrain crushed last month with outside military help.

Relations between Shiite Iran and Gulf Arab states have nosedived since Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops into the island state, where a Sunni-led monarchy rules over a Shiite majority, to end weeks of pro-democracy protests.

Bahrain accused the Islamic Republic of fomenting Shiite unrest.

A statement on the Bahrain News Agency said the foreign ministry had summoned Iranian charge d'affaires Mehdi Islami to inform him that diplomat Hojjatullah Rahmani had 72 hours to leave "based on his link to the spy cell in Kuwait."

"Bahrain calls on Iran to desist from these serious violations of standards of international relations, which are a threat to the security and stability of the region," it said.

Kuwait expelled three Iranian diplomats earlier this month over accusations of involvement in an alleged spy ring, prompting Tehran to order three Kuwaiti diplomats to leave Iran.

That was after a Kuwaiti court sentenced two Iranians and a Kuwaiti to death in March for involvement in espionage.

Bahrain, a U.S. ally that hosts the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has also begun the trial of two Iranians and a Bahraini on charges of spying for Iran's Revolutionary Guards.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Iran may take "retaliatory measures," Iranian media reported.

"The latest move by the Bahraini Foreign Ministry is against the two countries' good neighborly relations and not based on realities," he was quoted as saying.

Iran, which once claimed sovereignty over Bahrain, complained to the United Nations over the recent crackdown that has continued with the arrests of hundreds of activists and deaths of some in police custody.

A separate statement carried by Bahrain's state news agency said the health ministry had referred 30 employees who had been suspended from work in the aftermath of the protests for prosecution over "acts which appear to constitute crimes."

Ten other ministry employees who had been suspended, nine of them doctors, would be allowed to return to work, the agency said.

Human rights groups have accused Bahrain of arresting patients and medical staff suspected of taking part in protests, and sacking hundreds of public workers. Bahrain says it targets only those who committed crimes during the unrest in March.

A former member of parliament from Bahrain's main Shiite opposition party said security forces seized at least eight health workers from two separate medical facilities in Bahrain.

"We've heard reports that some doctors ... were beaten inside the medical center and then taken away," Mattar Ibrahim Mattar told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Dubai police have seized 16,000 Turkish-made pistols hidden in a sea cargo shipment bound for Yemen, officials said.

Authorities said the guns were headed to Yemen's restive Saada region, where Shiite rebels have fought government forces for years. Dubai's government described the find as the largest arms shipment of its kind discovered in the region.

Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim, Dubai's police chief, said authorities found the weapons in a red cargo shipping container, hidden behind boxes of furniture wrapped in plastic in a Dubai warehouse about two weeks ago.

Police showed photos and a video of thousands of metallic black, silver and gold colored handguns laid out on a concrete parking lot.

It was unclear who ordered the shipment. Tamim told reporters it was unlikely the weapons were destined for the Yemeni government because they were counterfeit knockoffs of legitimate brands.

He speculated that they might have been bound for Hawthi rebels, a group of Shiite tribesmen that has waged an on-and-off struggle against the government for the last six years.

They also could have been ordered by middlemen who planned to sell them one by one, he said. The central government in the capital Sanaa is struggling to exert its authority over Yemen's remote provinces, providing fertile ground for smugglers, al-Qaeda militants and other criminals to operate.

Tamim said Yemen had a market for illegal firearms. "If you want to sell it, people will buy," he said.

The shipment originated in Turkey and passed through an Egyptian port before reaching Dubai's Jebel Ali port, police said. The smugglers had intended to transport the weapons through another Gulf country instead of Dubai but changed their plans to secure a more convenient shipping route, police said.

Tamim declined to name the other Gulf country meant to serve as a transport point but said it wasn't Saudi Arabia. He said a number of suspects have been arrested with help from the countries involved.

Jebel Ali is by far the busiest port in the Middle East. It and other Dubai docks serve as major transshipment hubs for cargo traveling between Asia, Europe, Africa and the rest of the Middle East.

Yemen has been embroiled in a month of protests seeking to oust President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled for 32 years. A government crackdown on the opposition has killed dozens.

Saleh has been under American pressure to curb weapons trafficking in Yemen, where al-Qaeda is known to operate.

UAE authorities last year intercepted one of two mail bombs sent from Yemen to the U.S. in a cargo shipment transiting through Dubai. The other was discovered in Britain.