Iran commander in chief visits Gulf islands

The commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps says Iran is extending a "friendly hand" to all Muslim countries, especially those in the Gulf.

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TEHRAN // The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has visited the three disputed islands in the Gulf that are held by Iran but claimed by the UAE, Iranian state television reported today.

It was the first reported visit by a high-ranking Iranian military officer, almost a month after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s trip to the islands inflamed the dispute over the territories.

The UAE claims ownership of the islands, which were invaded by Iran on the eve of the UAE’s foundation in 1971.

Since then, the UAE has repeatedly pressed its claim through international bodies and directly with Iran.

The UAE immediately declared Mr Ahmadinejad's visit to be provocative, recalling its ambassador and calling on Iran to engage in dialogue to solve the dispute.

Yesterday Iranian state television said General Mohammad Ali Jafari, along with Admiral Ali Fadavi, head of the Guard’s navy, visited Abu Musa as well as Greater and Lesser Tunb.

It showed General Jafari meeting Iranian troops on the islands and said he had urged regional countries to co-operate with Iran.

“We shake in friendship the brotherly hand of all Islamic countries, especially countries south of the Persian Gulf,” he was reported as saying.

He urged the region’s nations to reject the “hand of global arrogance” – a reference to shaking off American influence – and instead “help each other”.

The official IRNA news agency said the visit took place yesterday.

The visit came as a new survey revealed strong support across the Arab world for the UAE's stance on the islands.

Of 2,066 people surveyed for Al Aan TV’s Nabd al Arab (Arabs’ Pulse) programme, almost nine in 10 respondents took the UAE’s side.

Across all countries, there was agreement (63 per cent) that the Iranian president’s visit was a provocative act that violated the UAE’s sovereignty over the islands, with just 9 per cent disagreeing.

The feeling was even stronger among the 167 people surveyed in the UAE, with four in five (80per cent) agreeing, and just 4 per cent disagreeing.

* With additional reporting by Ola Salem