ABU DHABI // Iran claimed yesterday that its legal right to Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs was "not open for negotiation" as the simmering dispute over the three occupied Gulf islands continued to escalate.
The claim by Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, followed remarks yesterday by his UAE counterpart, Sheikh Abdullah, which in turn followed a controversial and provocative visit to Abu Musa last week by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
"The UAE considers such a visit a violation of the agreement between Iran and the UAE," Sheikh Abdullah said.
The Gulf Cooperation Council, which recognises the UAE's sovereignty over the occupied islands, will hold a special meeting in Doha today to discuss Mr Ahmadinejad's visit.
Sheikh Abdullah said the islands were in a "pivotal area", crucial to the passage of oil. The UAE wants to find a solution to the conflict, but Iran's behaviour "might bring serious complications and implications", he said. "We have to have a clear agenda, a deadline for these negotiations."
If necessary the parties should seek international arbitration or go to the International Court of Justice, Sheikh Abdullah said. "But we cannot keep this matter going on for ever."
The Foreign Minister added: "It is with regret that a Muslim and neighbour country with civilisation and traditions behaves in such a manner. It is supposed to behave rationally, not to project its internal concerns abroad. In this case the consequences can be dangerous."
The Iranian foreign minister, Mr Salehi, told the semi-official ISNA news agency yesterday: "Our legal right to these islands is not open for negotiation, and our ownership of these islands is something certain and registered.
"After 1971, some issues were raised that have led to misunderstandings, and we have announced numerous times that we are ready to discuss these misunderstandings, but not in the media.
"We hope the other parties act with patience and prudence regarding disputes that could arise, or else solving the disputes will become complicated."
Iran invaded the strategically situated islands in the Strait of Hormuz as Britain withdrew its forces from the Gulf on the eve of the UAE’s founding in 1971. A small force of Ras Al Khaimah police resisted. Three of them were killed.
In an agreement between the UAE and Iran reached later that year, Iran was permitted to station troops on Abu Musa but the UAE retained sovereignty.
On his controversial visit to the island last week, Mr Ahmadinejad, whose term of office expires next June and who has recently been sidelined by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, spoke to residents and insisted that the Gulf should be called the Persian Gulf and waved an Iranian flag before a crowd of people, also with flags in hand.
The following day, the UAE recalled its ambassador in Tehran, and Sheikh Abdullah denounced the visit as a “flagrant violation” of UAE sovereignty.
On Sunday, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, summoned the Iranian ambassador in Abu Dhabi to give him a diplomatic note protesting against the visit by Mr Ahmadinejad.
Sheikh Abdullah cautioned that continued tension over the islands could undermine international peace and security. “I call upon Iran cordially to listen to my voice and end such a conflict, because such a conflict has to produce bad implications for both countries,” he said.
The Foreign Minister met ambassadors representing United Nations Security Council member states in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to discuss the issue. “It was a good opportunity to show the UAE’s stance and why such a visit has agitated the UAE,” Sheikh Abdullah said.
Yesterday Saudi Arabia also denounced Mr Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Musa as a flagrant violation of the UAE’s sovereignty. After a meeting chaired by King Abdullah, the Saudi Cabinet described the visit as a blow to efforts made to arrive at a peaceful settlement of the issue either through direct negotiations or by referral to the International Court of Justice.
The special GCC meeting had been expected to take place tomorrow in Riyadh, but GCC officials said yesterday it would be held in Doha today.
Ministers “will focus their discussions on developments regarding Iran’s occupation of the three UAE Islands”, said GCC secretary general Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani.
* With additional reporting by Ola Salem and Wam