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Iran-UAE Three Islands’ Dispute Unresolved

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By Bernard Schell | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

CAIRO (IDN) - The sigh of relief some two months ago that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran had reached an agreement on the three disputed islands near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, was rather short-lived. Only six days later, the report was denied by Iran. Now on March 10, the 22-nation Arab League has slammed Iran for refusal to accept the UAE’s sovereignty over the three islands in the strait between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, through which about 20% of the world's petroleum, and about 35% of the petroleum traded by sea passes.

Quoting an unnamed high level UAE source, the U.S. Defense Journal reported on January 15 that the UAE and Iranian officials had engaged in secretive talks with the help of the Omani government over the previous six months, adding: “A deal has been reached and finalized on the Greater and Lesser Tunbs . . . For now, two of the three islands are to return to the UAE while the final agreement for Abu Musa is being ironed out.”

Six days later, on January 21, the Farsi News Agency (FNA) stated quoting Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham that the U.S. media report is “completely false and (that) no agreement has been made.” Afkham described the report as a propaganda effort made to harm the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran. She said the "fabricated report” of the US Defense News aimed to influence the public opinion, and said, “No change has been made in the Islamic Republic’s positions on the Iranian islands.”

A day earlier, on January 20, Rapporteur of the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Seyed Hossein Naqavi Hosseini also slammed the U.S. media outlet for releasing "a completely forged and untrue story", saying that the West is seeking to trouble Iran's good and improving relations with other Persian Gulf littoral states.

“Iran has never negotiated over its trio islands, as it sees this issue which falls under our country's territorial integrity as basically non-negotiable,” Naqavi Hosseini told FNA. “The three islands of Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb and the Lesser Tunb are inseparable parts of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s soil,” he stressed.

FNA reported: “International documents clearly show that the three islands of the Greater Tunb, the Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa which were historically owned by Iran, temporarily fell to British control in 1903. The islands were returned to Iran based on an agreement in 1971 before the UAE was born.”

Arab League jumps in

Challenging Iran’s claim, the 22-nation Arab League stressed on March 10 the UAE’s “absolute sovereignty” over the three islands and called for a resolution to the dispute. The Arab League Ministerial Council’s 141st criticized Iran’s occupation of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, saying it breached the UAE’s sovereignty.

The UAE state news agency WAM said in a communique at the conclusion of its 141st session the Arab League’s ministerial council had “slammed the continuation of Iran to consolidate its occupation of the three islands, violating UAE sovereignty, and destabilising security and stability in both the region and the world”. The council also censured the construction of houses by the Iranian government on the three UAE islands for its citizens.

The communique deplored Iranian military manoeuvres on the three islands and in the regional waters and airspace, as they are “inseparable parts of the UAE”, calling on Iran to stop the violations and provocations deemed an interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign country. It added that, “such moves will not help build confidence, but threaten the security and stability of the region and expose regional and international navigation in the Arabian Gulf to danger”.

The communique also condemned Iran for opening two offices on Abu Mousa Island, calling on Iran to remove those illegal premises and respect the UAE’s territories. It added that such conduct does not go along with efforts to settle the issue amicably. The council praised the UAE initiatives to find a just solution to the issue of the three islands being occupied by Iran.

According to WAM; the ministerial council called on Iran “to translate into action its declaration to improve relations with the Arab countries, adding that Iran has to respond to sincere calls of the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), friendly countries and UN Secretary-General to settle the issue of the three islands peacefully in accordance with international laws and norms”.

UN help sought

The communique called on the UN Secretary-General and President of the UN Security Council to keep the issue on the agenda until Iran ends its occupation and the UAE recovers its full sovereignty over the three islands. It also urged the Arab League Secretary-General to follow the issue and present an update to the council in its next ordinary session.

The importance of the UAE for the Arab League lies in the fact that it is located in the southeast end of the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf, bordering Oman to the east and Saudi Arabia to the south, as well as sharing sea borders with Qatar, Iran and Pakistan. Comprising the constituent emirates of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah, and Umm al-Quwain, the country has the second largest economy in the Arab world after Saudi Arabia, with a gross domestic product (GDP) of $377 billion in 2012.

Dubai is the most populated with 35.6% of the UAE population. The Emirate of Abu Dhabi has a further 31.2%, meaning that over two-thirds of the UAE population of close to 5 million live in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai.

On the same day as the Arab League ministerial council bashed Iran, the FNA said in a report from Tehran that, according to Dubai customs' authorities the UAE’s trade transactions with Iran increased by 7.6 percent in 2013 in comparison with the previous year despite the U.S. sanctions against Tehran.

Dubai has traditionally been a major trading partner of Iran but that link has been hurt since late 2011, when Washington imposed banking sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program that forced Dubai to cut back business sharply.

Merchandise trade between Dubai and Iran plunged 31 percent to Dhs25bln in 2012. But in 2013, it rebounded slightly to about Dhs26bln, representing 2 percent of Dubai’s non-oil trade, FNA said.

“Although the banking sanctions remain in place, Iranian traders say their activities have become easier since last August, reducing geopolitical tensions and helping to stabilize the Iranian rial currency,” the news agency reported.

“Dubai’s bilateral trade with Iran goes in line with international obligations,” the Dubai customs authority said in an emailed reply to Reuters questions, FNA said, adding that in mid-January, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had urged the international community to lift economic sanctions against Iran.

“Iran is our neighbor and we don’t want any problems,” Sheikh Mohammed, who is also vice-president and prime minister of the UAE, said in a televised interview with BBC News. Sheikh Mohammed said that wider relief from sanctions would mean “everyone will benefit”. [IDN-InDepthNews – March 10, 2014]

Map Credit: Iran Times

2014 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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