Photo Credit: Marine Corps Cpl. Gary Jayne III
The USS Stout travels alongside the USS Bataan in the Strait of Hormuz, May 31, 2020.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Saturday summoned the Russian embassy in Tehran’s charge d’affaires to protest “Russia’s repeated support for claims on Iran’s trio Persian Gulf islands.” The Russian charge d’affaires was summoned in the absence of the ambassador. The protest was over the statement the 6th Arab-Russian Cooperation Forum in Morocco issued on Thursday regarding three islands in the Strait of Hormuz: Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb, and the Lesser Tunb.

Last week, the sixth session of the Russian-Arab Cooperation Forum in Marrakech, Morocco, brought together foreign ministers from participating countries, including Morocco’s Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Secretary-General of the Arab League Houssam Zaki, and ministerial delegations from various Arab countries. On Wednesday, the Russian-Arab Forum in Morocco issued its support for the UAE’s position which questions Iran’s right to control the islands.

The three disputed islands in the Strait of Hormuz. / Courtesy of the UAE

The Imperial Iranian Navy took control of Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb, and the Lesser Tunb on November 30, 1971, shortly after the withdrawal of British forces from these islands which are located in the Strait of Hormuz between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The Imperial State of Iran asserted its sovereignty over both island groups, whereas the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah claimed the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, and the Emirate of Sharjah claimed Abu Musa.

After the seizure, on December 2, 1971, and February 10, 1972, respectively, the emirates of Sharjah and Ras al-Khaimah joined the newly established United Arab Emirates, which inherited the territorial dispute with Iran over the islands. The islands remain a point of contention between the UAE and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Iran has maintained control over the islands since their seizure in 1971, while the UAE has pursued various efforts through international channels to regain sovereign control of the islands.

The forum’s statement supported a peaceful solution to the conflict between Iran and the UAE over the islands, but the Iranians would have none of that, and told the Russian diplomat in no uncertain terms that “respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries is one of the fundamental principles of relations between nations,” and stressed that the three islands permanently belong to Iran, and the Iranian government rejects any claim by any side in this regard.

In response, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov met in Moscow with Iran’s Ambassador Russia Kazam Jalali, and conveyed his country’s respect for Iran’s territorial integrity, which is “among Moscow’s fundamental principles.”

The Iranian ambassador, for his part, reiterated Iran’s historical sovereignty over the three islands.

According to Pirouz Mojtahedzadeh, an Iranian scholar at Tarbiat Modares University in Tehran, the Tunbs were under the jurisdiction of the kings of Hormuz from 1330 to 1507 until Portugal’s invasion. Portugal occupied the islands until 1622 when Shah Abbas expelled them. From 1622 to June 7, 1921, the islands were part of various Persian Empires. Subsequently, they were occupied by the British Empire and placed under the administration of the Emirate of Sharjah.

On November 29, 1971, just before the end of the British protectorate and the establishment of the United Arab Emirates, Iran and the ruler of Sharjah signed a memorandum of understanding for the joint administration of Abu Musa. The MoU stipulated that Sharjah would establish a local police station on Abu Musa, and Iran would station troops on the island according to an attached map. Each party would have full jurisdiction in designated areas, and their flags would continue to fly. The MoU also outlined the equal distribution of petroleum oil revenues. The ruler of Sharjah, it is said, had little choice but to sign the MoU, negotiating to preserve part of his territory or risk losing the restoration of the remaining part of the island permanently.

On the same day, Iran occupied the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, and a day later, on November 30, 1971, Iran seized Abu Musa.

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