Iranian presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi said that if he is elected in Friday's upcoming elections his first priority would be to establish good relations with neighboring Gulf states, but insisted that the body of water between them was Persian and not Arabian.
Karroubi said in an exclusive interview with Al Arabiya that "Arabs refer to it as 'Arabian Gulf,' while we say 'Persian Gulf' because we believe that this is a fact." Karroubi added that the United Nations officially acknowledges that it is the "Persian Gulf" and said that it was an undisputable historical fact.
"We have all the documents that prove it. The name the Persian Gulf was first used by the people of Bushehr 100 years before the birth of Christ," he told Al Arabiya.
In a televised electoral debate between Karroubi and incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Karroubi criticized Ahmadinejad for agreeing to sit at the Gaza Summit in the Qatari capital of Doha under a map that had the name "Arabian Gulf" on it.
But despite his firm stance on the issue, Karroubi said he believed Iran and its Arab neighbors would overcome their differences and that their cultural, religious and economic ties were strong enough to be able to open a new page.
With regards to Western accusations that Iran is a threat to its neighbors, Karroubi said Iran would never threaten its neighbors.
"This serves the enemy's agenda, especially Zionist groups who carefully and shrewdly plan to scare Muslims of each other."
When asked about relations with the United States, Karroubi replied that President Barack Obama's advances have so far been positive but "I think some things that happened cannot be undone with words. Obama has to take real steps."
Karroubi said he hoped icy relations with the U.S., which started some 30 years ago following the Islamic revolution that ousted the Shah, would eventually come to an end.
"Why are they freezing our assets? Why are they imposing all those sanctions against our people? I am sure that if Obama takes a step, things will get better and we, in turn, will take an equivalent step."
Sports and politics
Karroubi also commented on a recent decision by several Arab nations to pull out of the Islamic Solidarity Games, known as the Islamic Olympics, because winning medals would say Persian not Arabian Gulf.
The sporting event, which is held every four years involving athletes from the Organization of the Islamic Conference, will be hosted by Iran in November this year and the reformist candidate said linking participation in the tournament with the name issue "harms Iranian-Arab relations and causes problems. I did not expect that from our Arab friends."
A total of 33 countries were supposed to take part in the competition, but so far only 10 countries have confirmed after event organizers, the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, rejected Iran's use of "Persian Gulf" on medals, maps and posters and called for a neutral name like "The Gulf," which the Islamic Republic vehemently rejected.
"It is not a good idea to mix between politics and sports," Mirza Aghabeik, chairman of Islamic Solidarity Games executive committee, was quoted by the pro-government Jahan News as saying.
Last week, Iran's Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said the fact that Arab countries had refused to participate in the games over the term name was not going to solve the problem.
"The problems of Arab countries cannot be solved through this kind of issues. Plus, the historical background of the term 'Persian Gulf' is very clear."
(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid)