TEHRAN - Iran will respond with force to any threats to its territorial integrity, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday, adding that it would prefer to cooperate with its Arab neighbours to maintain security in the Gulf.
Iran “is ready to protect its existence and sovereignty,” he said. Iran’s army commander, General Ataollah Salehi, echoed the remarks, saying his forces “would not allow anyone to threaten Iran’s territorial integrity.” General Salehi also expressed pride over an April 11 visit by Ahmadinejad to the island of Abu Musa, which along with Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb islands are claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates.
“The three islands are part of Iranian territory,” he said in remarks reported by the Mehr news agency, adding that the army would not tolerate any “discussions” about the country’s territorial sovereignty.
Ahmadinejad himself during his Tuesday speech neither referred to the visit nor to fresh tensions with Gulf Arab nations over it. He said the key to lasting stability in the Gulf was regional cooperation. “When it comes to the Persian Gulf, security is achieved only through the collective cooperation of all nations and governments,” he said, while lashing out at “foreign interference which only causes destruction and division.”
The remarks by the firebrand president, known for his controversial speeches, came just ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states in Doha to discuss the simmering islands dispute between Iran and the UAE. Tensions over the three tiny Gulf islands were heightened by Ahmadinejad’s assertion on the island during his visit last Wednesday that historical records proved “the Persian Gulf is Persian.”
Meanwhile, the six Gulf monarchies meeting in Doha on Tuesday condemned as “provocative” a visit by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to an island claimed by both Abu Dhabi and Tehran.
The members of the Gulf Cooperation Council “strongly condemn the Iranian president’s visit to Abu Musa which is a provocative act and a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the United Arab Emirates over its three islands,” they said in a joint statement. The GCC also demanded Iran “end its occupation of these islands and respond to calls by the UAE to find a peaceful and just solution through negotiations or by resorting to the int’l court.”
The group further pledged their “full support to the UAE in all actions it takes to regain its rights and sovereignty over its islands.”
Foreign ministers of the GCC - grouping the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman - met at a special meeting in Doha Tuesday at the request of the UAE.