fe6f1d28cda49210VgnVCM200000e66411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2008-Q2Again, Iran refuses international arbitration over the Three Islandsee6f1d28cda49210VgnVCM200000e66411ac____Again, Iran refuses international arbitration over the Three IslandsThe Three Islands dispute has not had any impact on other UAE interests, though this might change if there were a direct conflict between Iran and the USThe Three Islands dispute has not had any impact on other UAE interests, though this might change if there were a direct conflict between Iran and the US<p>On Sunday, the Iranian foreign ministry publicly rejected the possibility of Russian mediation in the dispute with the UAE over the disputed islands Abu Musa and the Two Tunbs in the Arabian Gulf. An Iranian spokesman, Mohammad Ali Hosseini, said that the good relations between Iran and the UAE meant there was no need for third party involvement. According to reports, a delegation from the UAE Federal National Council sought Russian mediation during a recent visit to Moscow.</p>
<p>Hosseini's rejection of a role for Moscow was noticeably more polite than his reaction to last Thursday's statement on the issue from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which reiterated its support for the UAE's rights on the Three Islands. The Iranian spokesman had stated that the islands "eternally belong to Iran" and that the GCC's stance was "unprincipled". Despite this, Hosseini was prepared to offer further bilateral talks to "clear up some misunderstandings about Abu Musa".</p>
<p>The dispute between Iran and the UAE over the islands of Abu Musa and the Two Tunbs is one of the longest in the Gulf region. Since the Iranian occupation of the islands in 1971, Tehran has viewed them as its sovereign territory and has resisted any external interference. Although Iran has occasionally consented to bilateral discussions with the UAE, it has refused to submit the issue to international arbitration.</p>
<p>The islands have little intrinsic economic value, but they occupy an important strategic position adjoining rich undersea oil fields and vital shipping lanes. Iranian historians argue that the Three Islands have been commercially linked to the province of Fars in southern Iran for centuries. From the Iranian perspective, these claims remained legitimate during the long period of British dominance in the Gulf, arguing that the British ignored the Shah's claims to the islands and took advantage of the political paralysis in Iran at the end of the 19th century.</p>
<p>British officials during the colonial era, on the other hand, adhered to the line that the Three Islands belong to the sheikhs of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah. In 1928, the British India Office stated bluntly that "at no stage has the Persian claim to these territories been formally admitted, and at no stage has it been allowed to pass unquestioned". From the perspective of London, the Iranian claims to the islands were inconsistent and usually based on British records that the British themselves disowned.</p>
<p>However, this situation was to change after the British announcement in early 1968 that they would withdraw from the Gulf. The shah's decision to take over the Three Islands took place with British agreement - an acquiescence that has widely been viewed as appeasement, given Iran's strategic importance in preventing the spread of Soviet influence into the Gulf. Many assumed that London decided to compensate the Shah's frustrated wish to annex Bahrain by allowing him to take over the islands instead.</p>
<p>The truth was that by 1971, British weakness meant that London reluctantly accepted the Iranian action as the price to be paid for Iranian support, or at least non-interference, in the new born UAE.
One of the greatest areas of controversy has been the "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) signed between the ruler of Sharjah and Iran on the eve of UAE independence on November 18, 1971. The new federal authority of the UAE consistently claimed afterwards that the agreement was signed by the Sheikh of Sharjah under duress and that the Iranian occupation of the Tunbs in particular was an act of aggression.</p>
<p>While the UAE believed that this agreement did not give Iran exclusive rights to ensure the security of the islands, the Tehran government contended that it had complete freedom of action to deploy military forces. Iran took over joint control of Abu Musa under an agreement with Sharjah.
Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the new President of the UAE, authorised immediate formal protests against Iran's occupation of the islands, though at no point did he consider using force to retake them. Following the occupation of the Three Islands, the issue faded from the international community. Nevertheless, the issue of ownership and control of the islands did not go away. For the UAE, the main objective was to maintain good relations with Iran while working for the negotiated return of the islands. Sheikh Zayed and his government ensured that the dispute remained on the agendas of the GCC, the Arab League and the UN.</p>
<p>The crisis arose again in April 1992 when Iran expelled Arabs from Abu Musa, built up its military garrison on the island and established a surface-to-air missile base. From the perspective of the UAE, Iran had violated the 1971 MOU, and the UAE quickly gained support for its position from the GCC and the Arab League. The closing statement of the 13th summit of the GCC in December 1992 called on Iran to terminate occupation of the Tunb islands. The then Iranian President, Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, responded by boasting that Iran was stronger than its Arab neighbours and that "to reach those islands one would have to cross a sea of blood".</p>
<p>The UAE remains open to international mediation over the issue, including referral to the International Court of Justice. Tehran has steadfastly resisted.
The Three Islands dispute has not had any impact on other UAE interests, though this might change if there were a direct conflict between Iran and the US. Iran could use its installations on Abu Musa to attack American and friendly shipping in the Gulf. While Tehran resists any attempt to internationalise the dispute, hopes for a solution for the Three Islands will remain dependent on bilateral discussions between the UAE and Iran.</p>