x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iran warns of military response over islands

Since the commotion caused by Mr Ahmadinejad's visit on April 11, the UAE has received backing from several countries and international groups.

Iran is prepared to take military action over the islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs if peaceful negotiations fail, the commander of the country's ground forces said yesterday.

The statement by General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan marked the first time that an Iranian military commander has spoken about the issue, which flared up after a visit to Abu Musa last week by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

In an address aired on Iranian state television, Gen Reza said Iran would "strongly defend its rights", the Associated Press reported.

"We do not allow any country to carry out an invasion," he said. "If these disturbances are not solved through diplomacy, the military forces are ready to show the power of Iran to the offender."

Iranian troops occupied the islands on the eve of the formation of the UAE in 1971. Later that year, the two countries came to an agreement that Iran could station troops on Abu Musa, while the UAE retained sovereignty.

Small in size – Abu Musa is 4 kilometres in diameter – the trio of islands are 60km off the coast of the UAE, in a strategic position near the Strait of Hormuz.

Since the commotion caused by Mr Ahmadinejad's visit on April 11, the UAE has received backing from several countries and international groups. On Tuesday, the US joined the Arab Group of the UN and the GCC in siding with the UAE.

A statment from the UK Foreign Office, as quoted on Wam, the UAE's state news agency, branded Mr Ahmedinejad's actions last week as "highly unfortunate" and said it supported a peaceful settlement to the conflict.

In another statement yesterday, the Arab Parliamentary Federation also condemned Iran's actions. "The Arab Parliamentary Federation follows with great concern these Iranian behaviours. We stress that these islands are Arab islands, the ownership of which is exclusively to the UAE.

"No steps should be taken by parties to this conflict to further complicate the issue."

On Monday, the UAE's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, said Iran's behaviour could have dangerous consequences.

Yesterday, after reporting that the Iranian cabinet had plans to turn Abu Musa into a "model tourist resort," the semi-official Mehr News Agency published an interview with Iran's foreign ministry spokesman in which he said Iran's sovereignty was "not negotiable".

Ramin Mehmanparast spoke out after the GCC criticised Iran, calling its involvement "an encroachment against all of the council's member states".

zalhassani@thenational.ae