x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

FNC: islands issue more than 'dispute'

Members of council say "occupation" should be used to describe conflict with Iran over territory seized in 1971.

ABU DHABI // The battle of words over Iran's control of three UAE islands was stepped up yesterday when the nation's assembly stressed the seizure should be referred to as "occupation" rather than "dispute." Members of the Federal National Council (FNC) were about to vote yesterday on a number of recommendations related to the policies of the Foreign Ministry when Yousef Obaid al Nuaimi, a representative from Ras al Khaimah, suggested the terminological change.

"We should place a red line under the word dispute," he said about the word used in the two-page document of recommendations in which the council asked the government to intensify diplomatic efforts over the occupied territories, which were seized in 1971. "This is not a dispute. It's occupation. The Iranians use the [words] dispute and misunderstanding; for us it's occupation." Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Foreign Minister, who attended April's session, angered the Iranian government when he told the FNC members that the Iranian control of the islands - Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs - was a "shameful occupation."

A number of members took the podium yesterday to back Mr al Nuaimi's point. A diplomatic source said yesterday that the UAE had always "clearly and without hesitation" used the term "occupation" to describe the conflict over the islands. In official documents presented to the UN, said the source, the only term used is "occupation". The same word has also been consistently used in the closing statements of the GCC and Arab League's annual summits, in which the Arab blocs urged Iran to end control of the islands.

In their international dealings, members of the FNC, including Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, the speaker, have used "occupation" and "dispute" interchangeably. But Iranian officials have refused to describe the status quo as "dispute," preferring the words "misunderstanding" and "marginal issue". Despite the fact that the word "occupation" had been always used by the FNC and the Government, the members insistence yesterday to use it in their report instead of "dispute" suggested a hardening of the council's stance on the issue.

For two decades, Iran has pursued a policy of fait accompli in the three islands. In 1992, Iran 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. @Email:mhabboush@thenational.ae