x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

UK urges agreement on Gulf islands

British minister calls for a settlement to the conflict between the UAE and Iran over Abu Musa and Tunbs.

A British minister has called for a peaceful solution to the long-running conflict between the UAE and Iran over three disputed islands in the Arabian Gulf. The issue was raised this week in parliament for the first time since 1971, when Edward Heath was the prime minister and Iran forcibly occupied the strategically located Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs on the eve of the UAE's independence.

"We support a peaceful settlement of this dispute by means supported by the international law," said Ivan Lewis, minister of state at the Foreign Office, during a British parliamentary debate on Tuesday. Mr Lewis was responding to a question posed by John Grogan, a Labour MP from North Yorkshire. In January Mr Grogan promised a UAE delegation he would ask the government to "clarify the British attitude" towards the islands.

In the years since occupying them, Iran has brushed off repeated UAE and international calls to settle the dispute through direct negotiations, international arbitration or the International Court of Justice. Abdul Aziz al Ghurair, Speaker of the Federal National Council, was in London in January when he met top parliamentary officials. "This is a victory for the UAE," Mr al Ghurair told The National yesterday. "Listing this issue on the House of Commons agenda ... is a victory. And there is a clear statement of support for the UAE's position to resolve this dispute. We have the support of both sides."

In the last two years, FNC delegations have secured support for the UAE's position from parliamentary and government leaders in Moscow, Rome, Warsaw and Ankara. "This is what we call parliament diplomacy. We try in our visits to raise this issue and garner support," said Mr al Ghurair. On February 23 Bill Rammell, the former minister of state at the Foreign Office, had answered a question by Mr Grogan, who visited the UAE earlier this year, in a written statement. "The UK regards this dispute as a matter for resolution between the countries concerned," Mr Rammell wrote.

Not satisfied with the response, Mr Grogan proposed a debate with the government representative. The debate resulted in no change in Britain's official position, but Mr al Ghurair said it was supportive of the UAE's calls for a peaceful settlement to the dispute. Iran had consistently refrained from acknowledging the presence of a problem in recent years, with officials referring to it as a "misunderstanding".