x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

GCC underlines support in islands row

Iran should enter talks or seek international arbitration to settle a dispute with the UAE over three small islands, the GCC's foreign ministers say.

Iran should enter talks or seek international arbitration to settle a dispute with the UAE over three small islands, the Gulf Co-operation Council's foreign ministers said yesterday. In a communique issued during their two-day meeting in Jeddah, the ministers reiterated their support for the UAE's claim to Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa in the Gulf, and called for peaceful action to help the Emirates restore its sovereignty.

The ministers "urged Iran to positively respond to UAE's endeavours and peaceful initiatives to settle the issue of the islands through direct bilateral negotiations or by referring the case to the International Court of Justice", WAM, the state news agency, reported. Dr Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, represented the UAE at the meeting, which was due to end last night. Tensions between the UAE and Iran over the islands have heightened since the Iranians built two administrative offices on Abu Musa in August last year. Iran occupied the islands in 1971 and started to bolster its military presence there in the 1990s.

The UAE claims sovereignty on the grounds that the islands belonged to Ras al Khaimah and Sharjah. Tehran makes competing claims on historical grounds. Dr Mahmoun Fandy, a Gulf security expert at the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "This is the time if the UAE wants to get its islands story as an agenda item among policy makers worldwide - while there's tension between Iran and the West.

"But this is the same statement that's reissued at every meeting. It doesn't have any teeth. If the UAE wants a resolution, it's going to have to be more tough." The ministers praised the actions of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait in thwarting planned attacks by militants. Last month, Saudi Arabia said it had arrested 44 members of a cell with links to Kuwait. In May, Bahrain said it had apprehended a cell plotting attacks in other Gulf states.

The ministers said they were "satisfied" with action taken so far to prevent the spread of swine flu in the region. GCC health ministries have banned "vulnerable groups", such as the elderly and children, from taking part in Haj and Umrah this year and most are running awareness campaigns on the disease. The ministers reviewed steps by member states to follow the Supreme Council's guidelines on the development of nuclear power for peaceful purposes, and delegates called for the international community to face up to its responsibility to the Palestinian people, WAM said.

lmorris@thenational.ae