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Rafsanjani Warns Of ‘Sea Of Blood’ Over Disputed Gulf Islands

December 25, 1992 GMT

NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) _ President Hashemi Rafsanjani of Iran told his Arab neighbors and their Western allies on Friday that they will have to ″cross a sea of blood″ if they try to reclaim disputed islands Iran holds.

″Iran is much stronger than those like you,″ the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Rafsanjani as saying in a sermon at Friday prayers at Tehran University.

Rafsanjani’s unusually tough warning signaled Tehran’s apparent return to a hard-line position after four years of moderation following the June 1989 death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic republic’s fundamentalist founder.

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This shift indicated that Rafsanjani’s hard-line rivals in Iran are growing stronger. Rafsanjani, the leader of Iran’s so-called pragmatists, has tried to improve relations with the West and end Iran’s isolation.

His remarks were certain to heighten alarm among the Persian Gulf Arab states. Without Iraq as a buffer, they fear Iran seeks to dominate the region, which supplies one-fifth of the industrialized world’s oil.

The gulf states have ordered about $40 billion worth of Western arms since the 1991 Persian Gulf War, roughly five times what Iran is believed to be spending to rearm. But they have failed to forge a credible common defense, and they rely more than ever on Western powers to protect them.

Rafsanjani was responding to a communique issued Wednesday after the Gulf Cooperation Council’s annual summit. The six-member council called on Iran to withdraw from the strategic Abu Musa island in the southern Persian Gulf.

Iran took over the tiny island in April after sharing sovereignty with the United Arab Emirates for nearly two decades. The island dominates the Strait of Hormuz, the only waterway to and from the gulf.

Iran seized two other long-disputed islands, Greater and Lesser Tumb, in 1971.

Rafsanjani told the council members - Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain - and their Western allies: ″One will have to cross a sea of blood to reach those islands.″

He condemned the gulf rulers’ anti-Iranian position and charged that it was part of the West’s campaign against the Islamic republic.

Tehran says it has no expansionist plans and that the United States is creating concern about its rearmament to frighten the gulf states into buying U.S. weapons.