Iran's Guards commander visits disputed island: TV

DUBAI (Reuters) - The head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has visited three tiny disputed islands in the Gulf, state television reported on Friday, in a move likely to anger the United Arab Emirates which also claims sovereignty over them.

Tensions rose in April between the two countries following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to Abu Musa, one of the three islands near important oil shipping routes at the mouth of the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

During his Thursday visit, Guards commander-in-chief Mohammad Ali Jafari met with military forces stationed on the islands.

“We shake the friendly and brotherly hands in Islamic countries, especially those south of the Persian Gulf, and ask them to help get rid of the arrogant powers who are now in the region,” state television quoted Jafari as saying.

There has been no official reaction from the UAE to Jafari’s visit, but it is likely to be regarded as antagonistic.

Angered by Ahmadinejad’s visit, the UAE recalled its ambassador from Tehran for consultations, and cancelled a friendly soccer match with Iran’s national team, in response to what it called a “flagrant violation” of its sovereignty.

The visit also drew criticism from regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia, which accuses Iran of fomenting discontent among Shi’ite Muslims against their ruling Sunni dynasties in the region - a charge that Tehran denies.

Iran says its sovereignty over the three islands is not negotiable but has called for talks with the UAE to clear up “misunderstandings”.

Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs islands have been held by Iran since 1971, shortly before the seven Gulf emirates gained full independence from Britain and formed the UAE.

A further cause of rising tension between Iran and Gulf Arab states has been Tehran’s nuclear research, which Gulf Arab rulers fear is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear programme is purely civilian.

Writing by Zahra Hosseinian; editing by Andrew Roche