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It's business first for Iran at UAE arms fair despite island row

ABU DHABI, March 17 (AFP) - Under the motto of "business first," Iranian exhibitors have tried to attract potential buyers from around the world at the Abu Dhabi arms fair despite Tehran's islands dispute with their Emirati hosts.

"It's been going fairly well. We are confident in the interest shown," said Hossein Shahbazi Jafari, an official of Iran's defence ministry overseeing Iran's participation.

He declined to give a political spin to Iran's participation for only the second time since the bi-annual show was launched in 1993. Organizers had originally said it was Iran's first show.

"The message is to ... show good relations, even on the military side," said Jafari, echoing a position adopted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

"This exhibition is open to all our neighbours. We not looking at political issues here," said a UAE military spokesman, stressing that it was purely a trade fair.

Three Iranian companies -- its Defence Industry Organisation, and aviation and electronic industries -- were taking part in the five-day show, which closes Thursday, with the participation of 800 companies from some 40 states.

Iran's remote stand -- modest in comparison to the huge pavilions of arms giants such as the United States, Britain, France and Russia -- exhibited small arms, ammunition, rockets and models of tanks, planes and boats.

A military radio system was also on display, which Jafari said had won an award in the United States.

As for the rockets, "these are all based on the (former Soviet-built) Katyusha, but the nose has been adapted to increase the range for our Fadjr (Dawn) series of missiles," exhibitor Shafie Ahmad explained.

Iran's participation came amid almost daily UAE protests to the United Nations and Arab League over Iran's actions on three disputed islands.

On Monday, Gulf Arab foreign ministers insisted that Iran end its "occupation" of the islands of Abu Mussa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, and settle its sovereignty dispute with the UAE peacefully.

Earlier this month, they condemned Iran's military exercises near the islands and called for their immediate halt, a call ignored by Tehran.

US Defence Secretary William Cohen toured the Gulf last week offering to share early-warning intelligence with the region's Arab states on missile launches in response to Iranian tests.

In 1998, Iran tested its Shahab-3 medium-range missile, the latest in a series of ballistic missiles being developed by Tehran.

Iran, which showed off two domestically-built combat helicopters in February, has worked to develop its defence industries in a bid to counter a US ban on the transfer of sensitive technologies to the Islamic republic.

It has developed medium-range ballistic missiles and said last year it had begun producing its own fighter bombers, called Azarakhsh (Thunder).


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