WASHINGTON - The United States Wednesday backed the United Arab Emirates in its dispute with Iran over three Gulf islands, as President Barack Obama met Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan.
The two leaders met for lunch at the White House and issued a joint call for a peaceful resolution of the status of the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb, occupied by the Islamic Republic but claimed by the UAE.
A joint US and UAE statement issued after the meeting, which was closed to the press, said Obama and the prince "called for a peaceful resolution of the islands' status."
The United States "strongly supports the UAE's initiative to resolve the issue through direct negotiations, the International Court of Justice, or another appropriate international forum," the statement said.
The UAE claims the islands under the terms of a 1971 agreement signed when Britain ended its colonial-era reign over that part of the Gulf.
Iran rejects any UAE claim to the islands, saying they have always been part of its territory.
The head of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards made a pointed visit to islands in May, in what was seen by the UAE as a provocation.
Obama and Prince Nahyan also called on Iran to meet its international nuclear obligations and backed UN envoy Kofi Annan's tattered plan designed to end bloodshed in Syria, calling for a political transition there.
"Noting the profound changes taking place in other countries in the Middle East, they called on governments and citizens alike to avoid violence, advance tolerance, and protect human rights -- particularly the rights of women," the statement said.
"They highlighted the importance of reforms that support accountable governance, increase civic participation, and promote economic opportunities, especially for young people."
As security tensions rise in the Gulf in the absence of diplomatic progress on ending Iran's nuclear program, Obama and Prince Nahyan also pledged to conduct more military exercises and training and to identify future defense equipment sales.
"The President and Crown Prince discussed the importance of protecting critical shipping lanes against threats of aggression, terrorism, and piracy. "The President congratulated the Crown Prince on the announcement of the opening of a new 1.5 million (barrels per day) oil pipeline that crosses the UAE."
The pipeline would allow supplies to bypass the Strait of Hormuz, a potential choke point in the event of a US military showdown with Iran.