DOHA: The six Gulf monarchies meeting in Doha yesterday condemned as “provocative” a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an island claimed by both Abu Dhabi and Tehran. The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council “strongly condemn the Iranian president’s visit to Abu Musa which is a provocative act and a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates over its three islands,” they said in a joint statement. The visit, last week, “contradicts good neighbourly policies,” they added.
The GCC also demanded Iran “end its occupation of these islands and respond to calls by the UAE to find a peaceful and just solution through negotiations or by resorting to the international court”. The group further pledged their “full support to the UAE in all actions it takes to regain its rights and sovereignty over its islands”. Foreign ministers of the GCC -grouping the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman – met at a special meeting in Doha Tuesday at the request of the UAE. The UAE has summoned Iran’s ambassador to Abu Dhabi to denounce Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Musa, one of the three disputed islands that include Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb. Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan warned on Monday that if left unresolved, the issue “could jeopardise international security and peace”.
This was followed by a warning from Ahmadinejad who said yesterday that Iran will respond with force to any threats to its territorial integrity, adding that it would prefer to cooperate with its Arab neighbours to maintain security in the Gulf. “The armed forces and the army will inflict heavy regret and shame in case of any aggression against Iranian lands and interests,” Ahmadinejad said as Iranians marked National Army Day with a military parade near the capital Tehran, adding that Iran “is ready to protect its existence and sovereignty”.
Iran’s army commander, General Ataollah Salehi, echoed the remarks, saying his forces “would not allow anyone to threaten Iran’s territorial integrity”. General Salehi also expressed pride over an April 11 visit by Ahmadinejad to Abu Musa. “The three islands are part of Iranian territory,” he said in remarks reported by the Mehr news agency, adding that the army would not tolerate any “discussions” about the country’s territorial sovereignty.
Ahmadinejad himself during his speech yesterday neither referred to the visit nor to fresh tensions with Gulf Arab nations over it. He said the key to lasting stability in the Gulf was regional cooperation. “When it comes to the …Gulf, security is achieved only through the collective cooperation of all nations and governments,” he said, while lashing out at “foreign interference which only causes destruction and division”.
During the parade yesterday, Iran displayed an array of its homemade short-range missiles, tanks, drones and air defense system as well as some of its jet fighters, warplanes and military helicopters. Iran has tried to build a self-sufficient military program since 1992. On the sidelines of the parade, Iran’s army chief Gen Ataollah Salehi told the state IRNA news agency that US warships in the Gulf are “sweet targets” for Iranian armed forces.
Abu Dhabi has recalled its ambassador to Tehran and lodged a protest with the United Nations over Ahmadinejad’s visit, stressing that the territorial dispute should be resolved in talks or at the International Court of Justice. On Sunday, Sheikh Abdullah met ambassadors representing UN Security Council member states in Abu Dhabi to convey the “UAE’s condemnation of this provocative visit,” UAE’s official news agency, WAM, said.
Tehran has insisted that Ahmadinejad’s trip, during which he said historical documents proved “the Persian Gulf is Persian”, was a purely “domestic issue”. Both Iran and the UAE claim territorial sovereignty over the three islands in the southern Gulf. Iran, then under the rule of the Western-backed shah, gained control in 1971 of the islands as Britain granted independence to its Gulf protectorates and withdrew its forces. Abu Musa, the only inhabited island of the three, was placed under joint administration in a deal with Sharjah, now part of the UAE. Abu Dhabi says the Iranians have since taken control of the entire island which controls access to the oil-rich Gulf and have built an airport and military base there. – Agencies