(MENAFN- AzerNews) Despite the wave of diplomacy sweeping the region with the
rapprochement between Iran and some of its neighboring countries,
the dark clouds of a long-running territorial dispute between
Tehran and Abu Dhabi over three Persian Gulf islands continue to
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani in a
strongly-worded statement Saturday, a day after the Arab League
summit in the Saudi city of Jeddah, decried the joint communique
issued at the summit, referring to "accusations and false claims"
While "welcoming the constructive approach of some countries,"
Kanaani hit out at the 22-member pan-Arab organization for making
"repetitive claims," asserting that Iran's actions "are in line
with the exercise of sovereignty over its territory, and any claim
in this regard is rejected."
Although he stopped short of mentioning the three strategic
islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa located in the
Strait of Hormuz, the hint was clear enough.
The three islands have been administered by Iran since 1971,
eight years before the Iranian Revolution, but are claimed by the
United Arab Emirates as part of its territory.
The territorial dispute has been a key sticking point in
Iran-UAE relations over the years, with the two neighbors on
numerous occasions engaging in verbal duels at international
While Iran maintains that the islands are an "inseparable part"
of its territory, the UAE lays equal claim to them, backed by other
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members.
Yaseen Taqizadeh, a Persian Gulf affairs analyst, said the
dispute dates back more than five decades and the recent
upgradation of ties between Tehran and Abu Dhabi is unlikely to
resolve the issue.
"The dispute over the sovereignty of three islands is rooted in
history, with both sides making competing claims," he told Anadolu.
"It will continue to be a bone of contention between them
regardless of recent developments unless they agree to engage in
- Claims and counter-claims
In February, President Ebrahim Raisi's visit to Beijing, the
first by an Iranian head of state in two decades, was overshadowed
by a controversy related to the joint statement issued by China and
the GCC during Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Saudi Arabia
The statement backed the UAE's demand for the "resolution of the
dispute" over the three Persian Gulf islands, sparking an outcry in
Iran and almost creating a diplomatic row between Tehran and
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian took to Twitter
and asserted that Tehran "will not allow any country to disrespect
its territorial integrity." The veiled warning in the Chinese
language was directed at Beijing.
Raisi's key aide and deputy chief of staff, Mohammad Jamshidi,
was particularly blunt, issuing what he called "a reminder to
colleagues in Beijing." His statement came after the Chinese
ambassador to Iran was summoned to convey Tehran's "strong
"Raisi's visit to Beijing, although planned in advance, was an
exercise in controlling the damage from the China-GCC statement,
and it eventually did more than many had expected – laying the
groundwork for Iran's reconciliation with Saudi Arabia and other
Arab states," said Taqizadeh.
Weeks after the Iranian president's China visit, Iran's then-top
security official Ali Shamkhani dashed off to Beijing in March to
sign an agreement with his Saudi Arabian counterpart to restore
diplomatic ties between the two regional rivals. China played the
Shamkhani's next stop, interestingly, was Abu Dhabi, where he
held wide-ranging talks with top Emirati officials, including his
counterpart Tahnoun bin Zayed. The two sides agreed to "resolve
misunderstandings" and "expand relations to the highest level."
It is not known, however, whether the dispute over the three
Persian Gulf islands featured in discussions between the two
"It's highly likely that the dispute over the three islands
figured in Shamkhani's discussions with Emirati officials," said
Milad Hatam, a researcher with a focus on Middle East affairs.
Shamkhani stepped down Monday from his position as secretary of
Iran's Supreme National Security Council after 10 years and was
replaced by an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander.
- Iran-UAE relations
The UAE and Iran restored diplomatic ties in August last year,
which the Emirati Foreign Ministry in a statement at the time said
was "to achieve the common interests of the two countries and the
The rapprochement came six years after Abu Dhabi recalled its
ambassador to Tehran in solidarity with Riyadh after the Saudi
Arabian Embassy in the Iranian capital was stormed by an angry mob
in January 2016 following the execution of Saudi Shia cleric Sheikh
The UAE returned its envoy to Tehran in August last year and
Iran appointed its ambassador to Abu Dhabi last month, with both
sides expressing a commitment to upgrade ties.
After Iran appointed its ambassador to the Arab country in
April, the top diplomats of the two countries spoke over the phone
and described bilateral relations as "forward-looking."
"There is no denying that relations between Iran and the UAE
have improved since last year with regular communication between
the two sides at various levels, but the resolution of the dispute
over the three islands holds the key," said Hatam.
The status quo, he said, means they will continue to engage in
verbal duels in international forums, like in September 2021, when
they traded barbs at the 76th session of the UN General
At the time, the Emirati deputy foreign minister staked claim to
the islands and called on Iran to end its "occupation," to which
the Iranian mission in the UN responded by saying that the islands
were an "inseparable" part of Iran's territory.
"I think it's very much possible for the two sides to settle the
dispute through meaningful dialogue since the window of
communication remains open between them," said Taqizadeh.