Iran, UAE Try to Heal Rift over Strategic Islands
Iran and the United Arab Emirates on Monday edged to resolving their bitter quarrel over three strategic Gulf islands, as Iran welcomed a top official from the UAE for the first time in 10 years.
Both sides voiced their hopes for improved relations following high-level meetings in Tehran, although nothing was revealed about the fate of the disputed islands, said AFP.
"This visit opens new horizons for relations between the two countries," Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said on television after meeting with Emirati Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Iranian television said the UAE official gave Khatami a message from the Emirati head of state on the "geographical and religious necessity for the two countries to develop their cooperation."
During the meeting, Khatami said the two countries should improve their relations "while taking seriously the decision not to interfere in the other's affairs."
"Iran is following a détente policy and our hand is stretched to our neighbor, the Emirates," Khatami said, adding that Abu Dhabi was "Iran's main commercial partner in the region."
For his part, Sheikh Hamdan said the two countries should increase cooperation to solve the problems of Islamic world, the television added.
The UAE minister, who was accompanied by Information Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Interior Ministry Undersecretary Sheikh Seif bin Zayed Al Nahyan, arrived in Tehran at midday, in a visit only announced late Sunday.
All three officials are sons of UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
Earlier Monday, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi on Monday started talks with the three officials.
There was no official word on the subject of the talks at the foreign ministry in central Tehran, but sources close to the two delegations said they would focus on the isles dispute, drug trafficking, and the illegal immigration of Iranian nationals to the Emirates.
According to Al Jazeera satellite channel, the declared objective of the visit is to extend congratulations to Khatami on his landslide re-election.
However, the move is seen as possibly being part of efforts by both countries to settle the 30-year dispute over the three islands.
According to the official Iranian news agency, IRNA, the visit comes following several telephone conversations between top Iranian and UAE officials and a meeting between Sheikh Hamdan and his Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of a foreign ministerial meeting of the 56-member Organization of Islamic Conference in Doha last May.
According to an Iranian Foreign Ministry statement, “the Emirati minister is also to explore new ways of expanding Iran-UAE bilateral ties in talks with Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi."
Iran and UAE are at loggerheads over the three strategic Gulf islands of Abu Moussa, the lesser and the greater Tunbs. The islands were seized by Iran in 1971 after Britain withdrew from the Arabian Gulf. Last June, Gulf Arab foreign ministers urged Iran to accept World Court arbitration in its dispute with the UAE over the islands. But Iran's Foreign Ministry rejected the proposal and vowed that the islands were "an integral part of Iranian territory and will remain so." – Albawaba.com
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