ABU DHABI // Iranian control of three islands in the Gulf is a "shameful occupation" rather than a "misunderstanding", the Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said yesterday. Iran occupied Abu Musa near the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, along with Greater and Lesser Tunb, on the eve of the UAE's independence in December 1971.
The issue has been a point of contention between the nations ever since. "They like to call it misunderstanding, but we call it occupation," said Sheikh Abdullah, adding that the situation was made worse because hundreds of Emirati families on Abu Musa have been cut off from basic health and education services available to the rest of the Emirates' citizens. "There are hundreds of families in Abu Musa under occupation," Sheikh Abdullah told members of the FNC in his first appearance in the chamber since he was appointed Foreign Minister in 2006.
"Communication between them and the rest of their compatriots is almost non-existent, delivering aid or construction materials is impossible. Iran refuses that we send teachers, doctors, and nurses to them. There are few who know the daily suffering of our citizens in Abu Musa," Sheikh Abdullah said. "This is a burden that we should all deal with, not only as a Government but as a nation." For two decades, Iran has pursued a policy of fait accompli in the three islands.
In 1992, Iranian authorities forced Emiratis sailing to the islands to apply for Iranian visas. In 1996, Iran built an airport on Abu Musa and a power station on Greater Tunb. In August 2008, the official Iranian media reported the construction of a marine rescue centre and a registration office for ships and sailors on Abu Musa. "The occupation of any Arab land is only called occupation rather than misunderstanding, be it Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, south Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza," Sheikh Abdullah said.
"I am not comparing Iran to Israel ? but I should be sensitive about the occupation of my land more than about that of others." UAE leaders, including the late Sheikh Zayed, the nation's founder, have on many occasions urged successive Iranian governments to end the dispute through talks or international arbitration. These calls, however, have been consistently rejected by Iranian officials. Last month, Nasser Sudani, the deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, declined an invitation by Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the FNC Speaker, to form a joint parliamentary committee to discuss the islands.
"We don't see any dispute," Mr Sudani told the FNC Speaker during a meeting at an international parliamentary conference in Bangkok. Yousef al Nuaimi, a member of the FNC from Ras al Khaimah, scoffed at the notion that it was a "misunderstanding". "What kind of misunderstanding [is] initiated with a military offensive and followed by evicting the residents and teachers by fishing boats?" Mr al Nuaimi accused Iran of stealing oil from around the island in violation of a memorandum of understanding signed with the Government of Sharjah in 1971.
"No matter how long this goes on, the Emirati rights will be retained," Sheikh Abdullah said. "Not only the Emirati land but also the draining [of our resources] as pointed [out] by one of the members. We cannot allow this." Sheikh Abdullah praised the FNC for drawing international attention to Iran's occupation of the three islands. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org