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Iran claims UAE has agreed to Gulf island talks

by Stephen White on Mar 22, 2011

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The Iranian news agency IRNA has claimed that UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahayan has agreed to "peacefully resolve" in the two countries' dispute over territorial waters at a recent GCC meeting in Riyadh.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast told local media that Al Nahayan made the move at a recent meeting between GCC foreign ministers.

The issue has become politically sensitive recently with leading military and political figures in Iran increasingly vocal regarding the perceived threat to Iranian interests in the Gulf from the UAE's series of Palm-island projects. Development of these projects may be on hold but that hasn't stopped the Iranian government from contemplating action preventing further construction.

Iran argues that the islands are in violation of UN law as the sea borders of the two countries are in dispute, with both countries laying claim to the island of Abu Musa (which was formerly under the authority of Sharjah).

Coincidentally, 2011 marks the 40th anniversary since Iran took possession of the islands of Greater and Lesser Tunbs, and sovereignty over Abu Musa. Four decades later, ownership of the latter remains a contentious issue, and Iran believes that were the UAE to complete its man-made island programme and come within 20km of Abu Musa then it would destabilise the strategic balance of the GCC.

However, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast claims that Al Nahayan asked to remove the matter from the agenda of a recent closed meeting of GCC foreign ministers and added that the UAE and Iran will "peacefully resolve the issue of the three islands".

An official announcement or policy change has not been confirmed by the UAE, but Mehman-Parast still welcomed what he called a "change in the UAE's viewpoint".

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has always announced its readiness to hold direct bilateral talks over misunderstandings about the Abu Musa Island and the executive arrangements of 1971 Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two sides," he said.