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No tension with UAE, says Iranian president

Problems regarding three disputed islands dismissed despite heightened anxieties since construction on Abu Musa last month

UNITED NATIONS // Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has claimed the disputed sovereignty of Abu Musa and two other Gulf islands can be resolved, but condemned unspecified interference by the international community.

After speaking before the General Assembly in New York, Mr Ahmadinejad was asked by The National why Iran has refused UAE requests to resolve the islands dispute through arbitration at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). "Our relations with the states of the Persian Gulf are completely friendly ones. We have historical relations with them and provocation by others, meaning exterior forces, will not be able to disrupt these friendly ties," Mr Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday.

"The volume of trade between Iran and the UAE is extremely high and our ties are not only friendly, but expanding rapidly. There is a lot that is said outside the region, sometimes there is news out there, that has really nothing to do with the true nature of the relationship between the two peoples. "The people of the Persian Gulf and the governments of the Persian Gulf region are able to resolve their problems internally together. So, as far as we are concerned, there are no problems."

Despite Mr Ahmadinejad's assurances, Iran's announcement last month that it had built two marine offices on Abu Musa has proved extremely controversial. The UAE complained to the UN Security Council that their construction breached a 1971 agreement between the two governments, although Abu Dhabi's claims were soon rebuffed by an Iranian letter that asserted sovereignty over the island. Last week, the Arab Interim Parliament called on Iran to begin direct negotiations with the UAE to peacefully resolve the "dispute", and asked Arab countries to "exert more pressure on Iran to stop its occupation".

This week, Prof Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, spoke of "some tensions" growing between Iran and the UAE and offered the services of his 57-nation body to ease the situation. Anxieties have been heightened by a series of other events, including comments attributed to Iran's deputy foreign minister, Manouchehr Mohammadi, who was quoted last month as describing Gulf monarchies as weak, unstable and suffering a "crisis of legitimacy".

Tehran later accused UAE airport officials of "creating unusual problems for Iranians" and ordered a journalist from Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV channel to leave the Islamic republic. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, is expected to assert claims for sovereignty of the islands during his speech before the General Assembly on Saturday. The dispute over Abu Musa and two nearby islands, the Greater and Lesser Tunb, dates back to 1971 when Britain withdrew from the region and the three territories were occupied by Iran.

The UAE claims sovereignty over the islands on the grounds that they belonged to Ras al Khaimah and Sharjah, while Tehran offers competing claims on historical grounds. The Government has repeatedly called on Iran to resolve the issue through arbitration at the ICJ, the UN's principal judiciary organ based in The Hague, although Tehran has never approved of the idea. In September, Hasan Qashqavi, a spokesman for Iran's foreign ministry, said all Iranian activities in Abu Musa were legal and based on the nation's territorial rights.

He condemned the claims made by the GCC foreign ministers at their summit as "intervention in Iran's domestic affairs". On Sept 12, the country's interim Friday prayer leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ahmad Khatami, addressed the three islands in his sermon. "On behalf of the Iranian nation I declare that the three islands have been, are and will remain Iranian." jreinl@thenational.ae

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