DOHA // Gulf foreign ministers yesterday rallied behind the UAE and condemned the "provocative" actions of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the row over the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs.
The strong and unanimous support for the UAE's position emerged from a meeting in Doha of GCC foreign ministers, including Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.
In a three-page statement issued after the meeting, the Gulf Cooperation Council said a violation of the sovereignty of any member state of the GCC was an encroachment against all GCC countries.
The Gulf states expressed their solidarity with the UAE and endorsed all moves the country may take to regain "its rights and sovereignty over its territories".
They called on Iran to halt its occupation of the islands and backed the UAE's invitation to a peaceful and equitable solution through bilateral negotiations or through the International Court of Justice.
Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs are close to the strategically important shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 40 per cent of the world's crude oil passes.
Iran invaded and occupied them in 1971 just as the UAE was founded.
Yesterday's meeting of foreign ministers in Doha was chaired by Saud Al Faysal, the Saudi foreign minister. Dr Abdul Latif bin Rashid Al Zayyani, the GCC secretary general, also attended.
Earlier, Mr Ahmadinejad had given warning that Iran would respond with force to any threats to its national integrity.
"The armed forces and the army will inflict heavy regret and shame in case of any aggression against Iranian lands and interests," the president told military commanders and personnel at Iran's annual Army Day yesterday.
Iran "is ready to protect its existence and sovereignty", he said.
Mr Ahmadinejad did not explicitly refer to fresh tensions with the Gulf states after his controversial and provocative visit last week to the island of Abu Musa, but he said the key to lasting stability in the Gulf was regional cooperation.
"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".
Tehran on Monday advised caution and patience, with Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, insisting Iranian sovereignty over the islands was "not negotiable".
The diplomatic row coincides with the resumption of international talks on Iran's nuclear programme. An April 14 meeting in Istanbul was described as constructive by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief.
Further talks are planned for May 23 in Baghdad where Iranian officials and the United Nations five permanent Security Council members and Germany are expected to meet.