Iran blames 'big powers' for island dispute
ABU DHABI // Iran has broken its two-week silence after erecting two marine offices on the disputed Abu Musa island, branding a statement by a top Gulf official as "rude literature". Abdul Rahman al Attiya, the secretary general of the Gulf Co-operation Council, condemned Iran last week, telling Abu Dhabi TV that Tehran's failure to respond to the GCC's denunciation of construction activities on the island reflected an "absence of a constructive vision for neighbourly relations".
However, the high-ranking Iranian lawmaker Kazem Jalali, rapporteur of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said on Saturday: "Making use of rude literature against Iran's sovereignty over its three Persian Gulf islands is taking place under the pressure of big powers. "Such mischiefs are at the behest of certain big powers aimed at creating discord in the Muslim world and misleading the public opinion from key international issues."
Mr Jalali told IRNA, Iran's official news agency, that Iran was ready to dispel what he termed "probable ambiguities" over its ownership of the islands. Iranian state television claimed on Aug 11 that the new buildings were a marine rescue centre and a registration office for ships and sailors. It had been nearly 10 years since Iran had carried out any significant construction work on the island.
Abu Musa, together with the Greater and Lesser Tunbs islands, was seized by Iran in 1971. Mr Jalali said: "Tehran considers the United Arab Emirates as its own brotherly and friendly country." He insisted that "certain mischief resulted from the influence of big and extraterritorial powers" and continued to say that Emirati officials were resolute on reaching a settlement to the "existing dispute".
Iranian officials have referred to the problem as a "misunderstanding" in previous statements. Abdul Raheem Shaheen, a lawmaker from Ras al Khaimah, said the word "dispute" in the Iranian official's statement could have been "unintentional". "Iran behaves in the area as if it's a regional power, which makes it ignore the existence of the problem," said Mr Shaheen. "Iran doesn't feel the gravitas of the Gulf states is sufficient to make it sit at the negotiating table."
Mr Jalali claimed that international documents proved Iran's ownership of the islands and continued to allege that what he called "bullying powers" had been exploiting the dispute to "sow discord among regional and the Muslim nations". "Iran powerfully safeguards its national borders and its territorial integrity and does not permit any country to violate its borders," he said. Mr Shaheen and other Gulf officials stressed that the region's countries have repeatedly refused to surrender to international pressure to sever ties with Iran. "Iran claims that the Gulf officials' statements could lead to foreign intervention, but the fact is that its refusal to negotiate or accept international arbitration is leading to that," Mr Shaheen said.
The construction work has triggered a spate of fierce local and regional criticism. In a rare move, the Foreign Ministry summoned Iran's chargé d'affaires in the UAE on Aug 14 and handed him a note of protest. Reaction also came from the Arab League's secretary general, Amr Musa, who reiterated the organisation's deep concerns over Iran's move, fearing it would exacerbate tension in the region. Mr Shaheen said the GCC and the Arab League needed more than statements of condemnation in dealing with the islands issue. "They should decrease the commercial and diplomatic exchange with Iran," he said. "The statements will be ineffective without pressuring the Gulf and Arab position."
Published: August 24, 2008 04:00 AM