TEHRAN // Iran will respond with force to any threats to its territorial integrity, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today, 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,” Mr Ahmadinejad told military commanders and personnel on the occasion of Iran's annual Army Day today.
Iran "is ready to protect its existence and sovereignty", he said.
Mr Ahmadinejad did not explicitly refer to fresh tensions with Gulf Arab nations after a visit he made on April 11 to the island of Abu Musa, which is claimed by Iran and the UAE. 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".
The remarks came hours before a meeting of foreign ministers of the six GCC states in Doha to discuss the simmering islands dispute. Yesterday, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah warned that if left unresolved, the issue "could jeopardise international security and peace”.
"It is with regret that a Muslim and neighbour country with civilisation and traditions behaves in such a manner. It is supposed to behave rationally, not to project its internal concerns abroad. In this case the consequences can be dangerous.”
Dr Anwar Gargash, the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, refused to comment on Iran on the sidelines of a human trafficking press conference today. Dr Gargah, who is also the head of the national committee combating human trafficking, joked that he would need to change his attire to take on his foreign ministry role.
Tensions over the three tiny Gulf islands were heightened by Mr Ahmadinejad's assertion during his visit that historical records proved "the Persian Gulf is Persian".
The UAE denounced Mr Ahmadinejad's visit as a "violation of UAE sovereignty" and recalled its ambassador from Tehran in protest.
An international friendly between Iran and the UAE, scheduled to be played tonight in Fujairah, was cancelled last week. But an Asian Champions League club match involving top UAE and Iran sides will go on tonight in the capital at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
Al Jazira plays host to Esteghlal, one of Tehran's biggest clubs. The Esteghlal captain, Mehdi Amirabadi, was asked if players were aware of the political tension between Iran and the UAE. Before he could answer, an official with the Asian Football Confederation
interrupted. “Please, no comments,” he said. “This is a football match.”
While answering a question a few minutes later, Amirabadi said: “Of course it is a difficult match, but we are Iranian.”
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 Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's foreign minister, insisting Iranian sovereignty over the islands was "not negotiable".
Iran gained control of the islands of Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb in 1971 while, then under the rule of the Western-backed shah, 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, which was not yet part of the UAE.