Iran leader’s visit to island reignites feud with Emirates / Regional council calls for end to ‘occupation’ (WASHINGTON TIMES) By Ben Birnbaum 04/18/12)
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The Iranian president’s recent visit to a Persian Gulf island has
reawakened a long-standing but often-overlooked diplomatic dispute
between the Islamic republic and the United Arab Emirates.
Foreign ministers from the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations
held an emergency meeting Tuesday in Qatar to discuss Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad’s visit last week to Abu Musa, one of three Persian Gulf
islands claimed by Iran and by the United Arab Emirates.
In a statement after the meeting, the GCC called on Iran to end
its “occupation” of Abu Musa and voiced support “for all measures”
that the United Arab Emirates might take to assert sovereignty over
“The visit comes in contradiction of the good neighbor policy
embraced by the GCC countries in dealing with Iran, as well as of
peaceful efforts to end the issue of the occupation of the three
islands,” the statement said.
The United Arab Emirates withdrew its ambassador to Tehran after the
visit — the first by an Iranian president — and canceled a soccer
match between the nations. It also filed a complaint with the United
Nations, proposing that the dispute be arbitrated at the
International Court of Justice. Iran has refused.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a
statement “urg[ing] Iran to respond positively to the UAE’s
initiative to resolve the issue [diplomatically]” and said that
actions like Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit “only complicate efforts to
settle the issue.”
According to Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, Defense
Minister Ahmad Vahidi on Tuesday “stressed that the islands … are
absolutely an inseparable part of the Iranian land.”
The diplomatic spat has highlighted an intense feud that has been
overshadowed internationally by Iran’s nuclear program and other
provocative actions in the region, but still touches a raw nerve in
Dubai and Abu Dhabi.
“It’s the biggest issue in the UAE,” said Sultan Al Qassemi, a
popular commentator. “It’s an issue of sovereignty.
“The UAE has been conducting secret, high-level talks with the
Iranians over the past two years in which they agreed not to inflame
the matter so they could solve it amicably, and then the Iranians
decided to visit the island and just push the UAE’s buttons,
Iran took control of the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser
Tunb in 1971 after the withdrawal of British naval forces from the
Gulf. The islands were administered for five decades by Sharjah, one
of the seven emirates that now make up the United Arab Emirates.
Since the islands’ seizure, Iran has built facilities there,
including an airport and a desalination plant, and has prevented
visits by nationals of the United Arab Emirates. On Tuesday,
according to Iranian state media, Iran’s Cabinet voted to make Abu
Musa a “model tourist resort.”
Toby Jones, a Rutgers University professor of Middle East history,
said Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit was “interpreted on the Arab side of the
Gulf as an affirmation of their worst fears” about Iran’s hegemonic
“For Iran, they’re a small strategic asset, but they’re a way to
remind their neighbors that they’re a serious player,” Mr. Jones
said. “When Ahmadinejad visits, it sends a signal that Iran is
serious about protecting its interests.
“Iran is constantly put in a position where it has to overstate its
power and its ability to shape events because it feels like it’s
constantly beleaguered and surrounded by all sides.”
Other analysts see a domestic dimension to Mr. Ahmadinejad’s visit.”I
believe Ahmadinejad did this because he needs to have an enemy in the
region. He needs something that will unite Iranians,” said Anwar
Abdulrahman, editor-in-chief of the Bahrain-based Gulf Daily News.
Iran is experiencing increasing economic hardship and diplomatic
isolation as a result of sanctions from the West over its nuclear
Representatives from Iran and six other world powers are set to meet
over the nuclear issue on May 23-24 in Baghdad.
Both sides described talks last weekend in Istanbul as encouraging.
(© 2012 The Washington Times, LLC. 04/18/12)
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