Gulf Arab states on Tuesday condemned as a “provocation” a visit by Iran’s President’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a Gulf island also claimed by the United Arab Emirates and said it would support UAE’s effort to regain control over it.
“We condemn Ahmadinejad’s visit and consider it provocative and a violation of the UAE’s sovereignty over these islands. It contradicts peaceful attempts from GCC countries to find a solution,” said a statement issued after a meeting of foreign ministers of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, called by the UAE.
Ahmadinejad said ahead of the Gulf Arab meeting that Iran will respond with force to any threats to its territorial integrity, adding that it would prefer to cooperate with its Arab neighbors 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 told military commanders and personnel on the occasion of Iran’s annual Army Day.
Iran “is ready to protect its existence and sovereignty,” he said, according to AFP.
Ahmadinejad did not explicitly refer to fresh tensions with Gulf Arab nations over an April 11 visit he made to the island of Abu Musa, which is claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
But he said the key to lasting stability in the Gulf was regional cooperation.
“When it comes to the Persian 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.”
Tensions over three tiny Gulf islands, including Abu Musa, were heightened by Ahmadinejad’s assertion on the island during his visit last Wednesday that historical records proved “the Persian Gulf is Persian.”
Abu Dhabi denounced Ahmadinejad’s visit as a “violation of UAE sovereignty” and recalled its ambassador from Tehran in protest.
The UAE has also lodged a protest with the United Nations over the visit, stressing that the territorial dispute should be resolved through negotiations or at the International Court of Justice.
Tehran on Monday advised caution and patience, with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi insisting Iranian sovereignty over the islands was “not negotiable.”
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan responded by warning that if left unresolved, the issue “could jeopardize international security and peace.”
“We have to have a clear agenda, a deadline for negotiations and if there is no outcome ... then we can either go to the International Court of Justice or to international arbitration,” Sheikh Abdullah told a news conference in Abu Dhabi, according to Reuters.
Iran, then under the rule of the Western-backed shah, gained control of the islands of Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb in 1971, 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 over the entire island, which controls access to the oil-rich Gulf, and have installed an airport and military base on Abu Musa.
The UAE has recalled its ambassador from Tehran for consultations, and also cancelled a friendly soccer match with Iran’s national team set for Tuesday, in response to what its officials called a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.
The visit also drew criticism from regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, whose cabinet said on Monday Ahmadinejad’s trip had violated UAE sovereignty and was a “transgression of efforts towards a peaceful solution of the issue of the UAE islands,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.