TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- Foreign ministers of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states are scheduled to meet in the Saudi capital of Riyadh following a visit by Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to a disputed island earlier this week in a move that has sparked a diplomatic spat between the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Iran.
A UAE official said the special meeting, to be held Wednesday, was requested by the UAE after Ahmadinejad went to the island of Abu Musa, according to media reports. The six-nation GCC bloc consists of the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, and Qatar.
Abu Musa is one of three islands that both Iran and the UAE claim. Iran took control of the islands of Abu Musa, Lesser Tunb and Greater Tunb -- all located near important shipping lanes in the Strait of Hormuz -- back in 1971, as the Gulf emirates gained full independence from Britain and British forces were withdrawn.
GCC chief Abdullatif al-Zayani has denounced Ahmadinejad's visit to Abu Musa. In a statement, he called it a "clear violation of UAE sovereignty" and said it was "an irresponsible provocation and is not in line with the GCC policy of maintaining good neighborly relations with Iran," according to media reports.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Nahayan blasted Ahmadinejad's Abu Musa visit as a "flagrant violation of the UAE sovereignty over its territories" in a report carried on the official Emirati News Agency (WAM). The UAE Football Assn. has canceled a friendly soccer match with Iran scheduled for April 17, in Dubai.
Iran's deputy foreign minister for Arab and Africa affairs, Hossein Amir Abdollahian, counter that the visit to Abu Musa was an "internal affair" and referred to what he said was the "fact" that Abu Musa and the two other islands "have always belonged to Iran and will remain to do so," according to a report by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
Meanwhile, tough rhetoric was traded on government-controlled Iranian and Emirati media outlets.
One report [link in Arabic] carried on Tabnak, an Iranian news website close to moderate conservatives in Iran, accused the UAE and some Western media of waging a "psychological war" against the Islamic Republic.
"It is necessary that our diplomatic institution convey its objection to the UAE government and remind them of Iran's borderlines at least by summoning the country's ambassador," Tabnak wrote.
UAE media outlets, meanwhile, criticized Ahmadinejad's visit, with the Ittihad daily reportedly calling it an "'unacceptable, stark violation'' of the country's sovereignty. Another report, carried on WAM and quoting Emirati analysts, said "Emirati rights to Iran-occupied Abu Mousa near the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz, along with Greater and Lesser Tunbs, will be retained, no matter how long this takes or what Tehran does."
-- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran
Photo: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waves to supporters during a visit to the island of Abu Musa on Wednesday in a government photo. Credit: Islamic Republic of Iran / AFP/Getty Images