March 30, 2008 / 3:06 PM / 10 years ago

Arab summit backs UAE claim on islands, Tehran angry

DAMASCUS, March 30 (Reuters) - Arab leaders supported the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Sunday in its territorial dispute with Iran and called for a peaceful solution, but the Islamic republic dismissed the statement as interference in its affairs.

A Damascus Declaration at the end of a summit of 22 Arab states in the Syrian capital urged the UAE to seek “legal and peaceful ways to regain” three Islands in the Gulf controlled by non-Arab Iran and claimed by the UAE.

The declaration said resolving the dispute in the Gulf, a crucial outlet for world crude oil supply, would help improve relations between the Arab world and Iran.

In Tehran, the official Iranian news agency quoted an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the UAE’s claims were “vain and baseless”.

“The interference of third parties stemming from their misunderstanding of the dialogue between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Emirates is unacceptable and will not help it,” spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.

“The three islands are an inseparable part of Iranian territory,” he added.

Iranian influence in the Middle East, especially in Lebanon, overshadowed preparations for the summit. Conservative Arab states are uncomfortable with the rise of Iran after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Addressing the summit on Saturday, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi urged fellow Arab leaders to improve ties with Iran and said the UAE should seek international arbitration to solve the dispute over the islands.

Gaddafi said it was not wise to provoke Iran, pointing to a sizeable Iranian minority in pro-U.S. Gulf states.

U.S. President George W. Bush tried to shore up Arab Gulf support against Iran on a visit to the region in January and said Iran remained a threat despite a U.S. intelligence report that said Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme.

But Gulf states have expressed little public backing for Bush’s approach. (Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; editing by Sami Aboudi)

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