The UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, Reem Al Hashimy, reiterated her country’s call to Iran to resolve the issue of the three islands, Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa.
Al Hashimy said in a speech delivered before the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Saturday, “No matter how long this issue persists, our legitimate right to these islands will remain intact, and time will not negate our sovereignty over them or deter us from seeking their resolution, either through direct negotiations or the International Court of Justice. This has been the UAE’s consistent position for decades.”
The UAE has consistently asserted its legitimate and historical rights to the three islands occupied by Iran in all international forums and platforms. Since 1992, it has sought to refer the issue to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, while Iran refuses to discuss it, claiming that the islands are part of its territory.
The UAE’s demands regarding the three islands are based on historical documents and evidence, reflecting the historical, progressive reinforcement of utilization and possession, in addition to the legal right enhanced by the state’s functions on the disputed islands.
The three strategic islands are located in the Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world’s oil production passes. The UAE has not ceased to defend its rights and sovereignty over these islands.
Iran has occupied the three UAE islands (Lesser Tunb, Greater Tunb, and Abu Musa) since November 1971, just days before the formation of the UAE on December 2, 1971.
Last Wednesday, foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states and the United States issued a joint statement in New York, expressing their support for the UAE’s call for a peaceful resolution to the dispute over the three islands “through bilateral negotiations or the International Court of Justice, in accordance with international law, including the United Nations Charter.”
The Iranian Foreign Ministry responded to this statement by reaffirming its “consistent and initial” position that the three islands are “an integral and eternal part of Iranian territory,” and strongly condemning any claims regarding these islands, considering them a severe interference in its internal affairs and territorial sovereignty.
Iran is seeking to improve its relations with Arab countries to alleviate the pressures from all sides. However, the UAE, while maintaining positive relations with its regional neighbors, does not want to relinquish its historical rights in critical issues such as the three disputed islands with Iran.
Analysts emphasize that Iran’s objection to the Gulf states’ affirmation of the UAE’s right to the disputed islands poses significant obstacles to the full return of Iranian-Arab relations through proper means. Iran has consistently rejected all Arab and UAE offers and statements, as well as those issued by the Arab League and summits on this matter, to resort to international arbitration and establish its rightful claim to these islands.
This issue is part of many other disputes, including the naming of the Persian Gulf as the Arabian Gulf, among others, confirming that normalization based on full agreement between Iran and Arab countries remains distant. Differences between Tehran and Arab countries cannot be resolved through the political and diplomatic means applied.
The UAE enjoys support from many countries for its legitimate cause, including Iran’s allies, Russia and China. Since December of last year, the joint statement of the China-Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Riyadh included a clause supporting the UAE’s efforts to reach a peaceful solution to the issue of the three islands.
In addition, the final statement of the sixth ministerial meeting of the strategic dialogue between the GCC and Russia on July 10 last year called for resolving the issue of the three islands in the Gulf through “bilateral negotiations or the International Court of Justice, according to international law and the United Nations Charter.” This statement provoked a strong reaction from Iran, which considered it a significant setback from its allies.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry also summoned the Russian ambassador to Tehran, Alexey Dedov, in protest of Moscow’s explicit support for the UAE’s claims to the islands. It expressed the Islamic Republic’s “firm objection to the content of the statement,” calling for Russia to correct its position on this matter.
Iran then launched a media campaign in its newspapers, indicating its shock at the position of its allies. The joint statement of the Gulf Cooperation Council and Russia in support of the UAE’s claims to the three islands topped the headlines and media outlets in Iran. The reformist newspaper “Ham Mihan” wrote: “After China, it is Russia’s turn today to support the positions of the Gulf Cooperation Council regarding Iran’s three islands, completely ignoring its common interests with Iran. Given Iran’s rapprochement with Russia, it was expected that Moscow would not doubt the unity of Iran’s territory.”
The reformist newspaper “Shargh” also said, “Russia is not a reliable strategic ally, as it has repeatedly shown that it can bypass tactical cooperation based on its national interests and sometimes take different, if not conflicting, steps from the interests of other active parties.”
On the other hand, the moderate newspaper “Donya-e-Eqtesad” wrote: “We must update our strategies and adapt to new circumstances in the regional domain. A sensitive issue like the three islands, which has been a point of contention between Iran and the UAE and other GCC member states, will shift from a regional issue to one involving major powers, with Russia and China joining the confrontation.”
Iran continues to violate the UAE’s sovereignty over the islands. In September 2022, the Iranian judiciary announced the issuance of official ownership documents for the Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa islands, stating that these three islands are now within the Iranian land registries as state-owned lands with official and legal ownership documents.
In May 2021, the commander of the naval forces of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Admiral Ali Reza Tangsiri, announced Iran’s plans to establish housing on the UAE’s three islands and create job opportunities there, with the intention of populating these islands, based on orders from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
British government documents covering the period from the early nineteenth century until 1962 and official correspondence between the rulers of the Qawasim tribes and the British political resident indicate that ownership of these islands belongs to “the Arab Qawasim tribe governed by the rulers of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.”
Since the early eighteenth century, the three islands were used by the Qawasim tribes and their loyalists for farming, pearling, diving, and seasonal activities, while Abu Musa and Greater Tunb were inhabited by generations of subjects of the rulers of Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah.