Mojtahedzadeh’s response to Heikal’s remarks on Iranian islands swap with Bahrain

Map shows the location of Iran’s three islands of the Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa.

TEHRAN (ISNA)- Pirouz Mojtahed-Zadeh has published an article following remarks of Egyptian prominent journalist Hassanein Heikal on swap deal for Bahrain and the three Iranian islands.

The full text of the article of the Iranian Political Geography and Geopolitics Professor comes as follows:

No swap deal has ever taken place between Bahrain and the Three

Islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa

In the Persian Gulf

The English-language daily Tehran Times (1), reporting on a quotation that Iranian daily Jomhouri-e-Eslami has made fromstatements made by Hassanein Heikal in an interview with the Egyptian CBC television network articulating that:

….. the three Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa, the Greater Tunb, and the Lesser Tunb belong to Iran, and the United Arab Emirates’ dispute over Iran’s sovereignty over the islands is baseless and politically motivated.

Heikal further stipulated:

I was present at the negotiations during the time of Gamal (Jamal) Abdel Nasser in Egypt and Feisal in Saudi Arabia in which the Arab states traded the three islands for Bahrain.

No doubt veteran Egyptian Journalist Hassanein Heikal has always been a man of honour and integrity in his profession, a shining example of his honesty and integrity in telling the truth is the first part of the above quotation from his said interview, but lack of proper attention to the details of the second part of his above statement can cause misunderstanding to the effect that the three islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa were swapped with Bahrain in 1970 Anglo-Iranian negotiation on the issue of Bahrain’s independence and the 1971 Anglo-Iranian negotiations on reaffirming Iranian sovereignty over the three islands. What Mr. Heikal is saying is that he was present in inter-Arab talks among heads of states, whereby they convinced the Arab world that it would be to their benefit if they consented to a deal whereby the Iranians regained the three islands and withdrew claims on Bahrain. This must not in any way bring about the impression that such a deal had taken place in Anglo-Iranian negotiations over the two separate issues of Bahrain and the three islands.

In 1970s, this author had started his life-long studies of political geography of the Persian Gulf and interviewed for the purpose of preparing his doctoral thesis at Oxford and London universities in 1980s and 1990s all those involved directly in Anglo-Iranian negotiations in 1970 and 1971, namely Late Amir Khosro Afshar and Late Sir William Luce acting on behalf of their respective governments of Iran and Britain.

But unfortunately after the settlement of the Bahrain issue in 1970, the Al-Ahram of Cairo hinted at rumours that Iran had withdrawn its historical claims to Bahrain principally because it believed, at the time, that its greater interest centred on the strategic Strait of Hormuz, and in the islands at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, and that Iran was reassured by the British, in conjunction with “some” Arab governments (3), of getting Abu Musa and the two Tunbs, in return for Bahrain.

Apart from its unrealistic nature, these rumours had their harmful effect when the government of the United Arab Emirates later on started to argue on the basis of these rumours that Iran did not have firm legal and historical rights to the three islands at the Strait of Hormuz and ‘occupied’ them solely in return for giving up claims of sovereignty over Bahrain Archipelago.

Although these rumours were baseless, the an earlier round of confidential talks between Iran and Britain on the Anglo-Iranian maritime boundary disputes in the Persian Gulf which were taking place in mid-1960s, gave rise to the rumours that the two sides, in conjunction with some Arab governments, agreed on a trade-off deal by giving Abu Musa island to Iran in return for Iran’s withdrawal of claims to Bahrain. These rumours were based on the British had endeavoured since 1928-9 to come to a similar arrangement with Iran on the issue of Sirri Island and the islands of Tunb and Abu Musa. that was the last of any attempt on connecting these two issues according to the masses of documents (British, Iranian and Arabic) that this author came across during his ten years of research into the issues of territoriality in the Persian Gulf, working (from late 1970s to early 1990s) for his M. Phil. and Ph.D. theses at Oxford and London universities respectively (4).

During these long-lasting investigative researches into the facts leading to the lawful restoration of Iranian sovereignty rights over the islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Abu Musa, this author interviewed on several occasion in early 1990s, the Late Amir Khosro Afshar, Iran’s Chief Negotiator in both cases of separate negotiations with Britain on Bahrain and the three islands, categorically denied existence of any link between to two sets of negotiations; on Bahrain in 1970, and on the three islands in 1971.

Late Amir Khosro Afshar, acting as Iranian chief negotiator in his capacity as the Ambassador of the Imperial Government of Iran in early 1970s, confided to this author on Sunday 10th April 1994 that negotiations between him and Sir William Luce of the United Kingdom continued to the full, the last round of which took place in London only a few days before the landing of Iranian forces on the islands. On the method of negotiations he explained (5):

“Sir William Luce and I used to negotiate in London. Having reached certain points of understanding, we would go to Tehran and discuss them before the Shah. Having heard the Shah’s views, Sir William Luce would go to the emirates discussing the points with rulers of Sharjah and Ras al-Kheimah, from there going to London to brief his government. We then resumed the talks in London, repeating the same procedure.”

Mr Afshar also disclosed to this author on the same date that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt were aware of the negotiations. He said:

“I met and discussed our intention of repossessing the three islands once with King Faisal, and three times with Prince Fahad (later King Fahad) in London. I had also discussed the matter with Mahmud Riyadh, Egyptian Foreign Minister, during a meeting at the United Nations. Several times I discussed the matter with Sheikh Zaied of Abu Dhabi who was to become the President of the Emerging UAE. My last talks on the subject with him took place at the Iranian Embassy in London in the summer of 1971. Sheikh Zaied’s suggestions included prosecution of this Iranian intention after the formation of the UAE was officially announced. I explained that Iran wanted cooperation with the emerging UAE and other neighbours in the Persian Gulf in the wake of British withdrawal from the region. This issue constituted long standing disputes between Iran and the British and had to be settled with them before they left the region. Should we allow this matter to remain unsettled after the departure of the British, the UAE inheritance of the dispute will prevent regional cooperation. He had nothing to say to this argument. Moreover, six hours before landing troops on the three islands, on the instruction of the Shah, I informed King Faisal, through Saudi Ambassador in Tehran, of our imminent move to repossess the three islands.”

Mr Afshar also disclosed that he met Sheikh Saqar of Ras al-Kheimah and his heir apparent separately in London discussing the issue of the two islands of Tunb. No agreement was reached on the subject he said, but some months after Iran’s move into the islands, the Saudis intervened asking him to meet the Sheikh and to see to his financial needs. He stated:

I met Sheikh Saqar in the Iranian Embassy in London and told him that we were prepared to extend financial assistance to Ras al-Kheimah provided that he officially renounced his opposition to the reassertion of Iranian sovereignty on the two Tunbs. He said he saw no sense in not doing so, but such an official declaration would put his life in jeopardy with the fanatics.

Equally important is the fact that some twenty four hours before the Iranian military action took place, Sharjah announced an official Memorandum of Understanding with Iran under the auspices of Foreign and Commonwealth Office of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, according to which Iranian forces were to take possession of the strategic areas of Abu Musa.

References

1- The English-language daily Tehran Times, Vol. 11891, dated January 4, 2014.

2- Al-Ahram of Cairo, November 10, 1968.

3- Saudi Arabian government was suspected to have been involved

4- Mojtahed-Zadeh, Pirouz (1999 – 2002), Security and Territoriality in the Persian Gulf, Curzon Routledge, London and New York.

5- For references to these statements confided to this author see; Mojtahed-Zadeh, Pirouz (1995), The Islands of Tunb and Abu Musa, An Iranian Argument in Search of Peace and Co-operation in the Persian Gulf, SOAS occasional paper 15, chapter IV, published by Centre of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, University of London, July 1995.

By ISNA

 

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