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Sunday, 30 April, 2000, 05:52 GMT 06:52 UK
Gulf nations seek end to islands row
Khatami has thawed relations between Iran and Gulf states
Leaders of the six Gulf Arab states meeting in the Omani capital, Muscat, have stressed their desire to improve relations with Iran.

In a statement, members of the Gulf Co-operation Council urged Tehran to co-operate with its Gulf neighbours in finding a solution to the main problem obstructing closer relations -- the dispute over three Gulf islands claimed by both Iran and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

The statement called on the Iranian Government either to hold talks with the UAE or accept international arbitration.

Correspondents say the Gulf states' relations with Iran have improved since the reformist President, Mohammad Khatami, was elected, however the dispute over the islands - Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs -continues to cause problems.

Iran seized the Greater and Lesser Tunbs in 1971 and annexed Abu Musa in 1992. The three islands dominate the approach to the Strait of Hormuz, through which about one-fifth of the world's oil supply passes.

Iran has insisted on direct talks with the UAE, rather than international arbitration, but rejects the UAE's demand for a fixed time limit.

In their final statement, the leaders asked a committee of the foreign ministers of Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to continue their efforts to encourage dialogue between Iran and UAE.

Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia will fly to the Emirates on Sunday for talks, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

A Saudi source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the prince's discussions would focus on the dispute with Iran.

The Iranian Defence Minister, Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, has just been making a landmark visit to Saudi Arabia.

The two countries once traded insults, but now they are talking of forging security pacts to combat crime and drug trafficking.

Apart from the territorial dispute between Iran and the UAE, the biggest obstacle to closer is the issue of the US military presence in the Gulf.

Washington has defence agreements with every Gulf Arab state, but Iran wants all Western forces to leave the Gulf and instead create a regional security pact.

So far the Gulf states have been reluctant to take up the offer, but they are also wary accepting the US proposal for a costly defence system against missiles from Iran and Iraq.

In the quiet, conservative countries of the Gulf, few believe there is a genuine threat from their neighbours.

The council, a loose political and economic alliance, comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Gulf officials said the leaders also discussed Iraq - where they reiterated a demand for Baghdad to comply with UN resolutions on disarmament - the unification of their custom tariffs, a common electricity grid, and negotiations with European Union for a free trade agreement.

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25 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran pledges Gulf co-operation
09 Apr 00 | Middle East
Gulf nations condemn Iraq
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