x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Tehran rejects offer to discuss the Tunbs

The UAE proposes that it and Iran create a working group to discuss who owns three islands in the Gulf.

BANGKOK // The UAE yesterday proposed that it and Iran create a working group to discuss who owns three islands in the Gulf. A resolution appears unlikely as the two sides cannot even agree on whether the dispute is, in fact, a dispute. In a tête-à-tête yesterday at an international parliamentary conference in Thailand, the Speaker of the FNC made an "honest request" to an Iranian parliamentarian suggesting the two bodies join forces to set up the working group.

"We can form a parliamentary committee that can discuss the issue every now and then," Abdul Aziz al Ghurair told Nasser Sudani, the deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament. "This is my request, if you consider it, it will move the relationship forward, the relationship with Iran will be the strongest in the region," Mr al Ghurair said. But Mr Sudani said the issue was "marginal" and the two countries should focus on more pressing issues, such as strengthening their economic ties.

The matter goes back to November 30, 1971, when, just two days before the UAE declared independence, Iran seized the three islands - Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs. Abu Musa lies at the entrance of the Strait of Hormuz, which the US government's Energy Information Agency identifies as the global oil trade's most important chokepoint. Mr al Ghurair told Mr Sudani yesterday: "Our relationship is improving year by year despite this minor dispute. This is our hope and we have a lot of confidence in your parliament."

Mr Sudani said he would deliver the proposal to the Iranian parliament but insisted there was no dispute to argue over. "There is no dispute over international agreements. We wonder why do you have a different interpretation? We don't see any dispute," he said. "As for marginal issues, our position ... is to abide by international agreements. Borders are clear and fixed." In May 2008, Dr Abdul Raheem Shaheen, an FNC member, complained that Iranian officials often described the dispute as a "mere misunderstanding."

"Even parliamentarians!" Mr al Ghurair exclaimed yesterday when Mr Nasser denied that there was a dispute. "Bring your documents and we will bring ours. Why don't we seek a third party because there is a dispute? We have a different interpretation, we respect yours and you should respect ours." Switching to Farsi, Mr al Ghurair added: "Our interpretation says that this is water and not tea." For years, the FNC has been the UAE's leading advocate of the issue, its members having raised the Iranian occupation of the islands in international conferences and bilateral meetings.

In an address yesterday before parliamentary delegates of 131 nations, Mr al Ghurair said Iran's "illegitimate occupation of Emirati lands ... represents a waste of principles of good governance in managing international relations". In his meeting with Mr Sudani, Mr al Ghurair expressed a desire to stop raising the issue in international venues. But he said he had no choice. "We're a half-elected council, and it's a popular demand that we raise the issue internationally," he said. "Should there be closeness, ongoing talks and a timetable, one, two or three years, we can wait. But, honestly, we see no response."

The UAE's leaders, including the late Sheikh Zayed, the founder of the nation, have repeatedly urged Iran to end the dispute through talks or international arbitration. But Iran has steadfastly rejected those calls. @Email:mhabboush@thentional.ae