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UAE calls on Iran to settle island dispute

ABU DHABI, June 1 (AFP) - The United Arab Emirates called on Iran Tuesday to move to settle the dispute between them over three Gulf islands claimed by both, the official WAM news agency reported.

"The peaceful policy of the Emirates derives from its sincere desire to find a settlement to the problem of the islands either through bilateral negotiations or by submitting the case to international arbitration," UAE Foreign Minister Rashed Abdullah al-Nuaimi told the Federal National Council, a consultative parliament with no powers.

He told members he believed the moderate policy of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami "could enable us shortly to find common ground to solve the problem."

However, "the brothers in Iran do not have the necessary political will to settle the conflict," he added.

Iran has controlled the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs since 1971 after Britain ended its protectorate but rejects arbitration, claiming the islands as its territory.

It has confined itself to suggesting bilateral discussions with the UAE, to end "misunderstandings."

"In the absence of any settlement, it will be difficult to establish a climate of trust between (Tehran) and the Gulf countries, since the issue of the occupied islands affects not only UAE-Iran relations but also relations between the Arab states and Iran," Nuaimi said.

"If Iran wants to establish a climate of confidence in the region, all it has to do is to put an end to some of its abuses," he said, giving as an example the demonstrations by Iranians during the annual Moslem pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

However, he noted that Iran had modified its policies with the arrival in power of Khatami.

Iran has recently embarked on a process of rapprochement with the Gulf Arab states. The warming of relations was marked by a recent visit by Khatami to Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Nuaimi told AFP last month during a summit of the Gulf petromonarchies that his country still had good relations with Iran despite the conflict over the islands.

However, UAE Information Minister Abdullah bin Zayed warned Iran recently "not to misinterpret" the current improvement in relations between Tehran and the Gulf Arab states.


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