The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it hoped Iran would address issues straining ties with Gulf Arab countries as well as its nuclear row with the West following the election of President Hassan Rouhani.
The UAE and Iran, rivals for regional influence, both lay claim to the islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz, through which about 40 percent of the world’s seaborne oil exports flow.
“We have a hanging issue with Iran – Iran still occupies after 42 years three of our islands,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed told a news conference in Abu Dhabi.
The islands have been held by Iran since 1971, shortly before the seven Gulf emirates gained full independence from Britain and formed the UAE, now allied with Washington.
“We hope of Iran that as much as it is taking the nuclear issue seriously, it be serious on reassuring the surrounding region,” Sheikh Abdullah told a joint news conference with visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
“I hope with the Rouhani government there is a fresh start. But this needs time, effort and hard work between us and Iran.”
Tension between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Muslims Gulf Arab rulers has been heightened by political turmoil across the Middle East.
Bahrain has repeatedly accused Tehran of meddling in its internal politics. Saudi Arabia has complained about alleged border breaches by Iran. Gulf Arabs also have concerns over the safety of an Iranian nuclear power plant on the Gulf coast and object to Tehran’s support for President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.
Rouhani took office in August after scoring a big win in June’s presidential election over more conservative rivals. He has promised to try to resolve the decade-old nuclear dispute and secure the easing of sanctions that have damaged Iran’s oil-dependent economy.
The West accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons. Iran says its programme is for power generation and medical purposes only.