TEHRAN, Iran – An old dispute got a new airing this week, when the Iranian president and the emir of Qatar got into it over the name of the body of water that separates Iran from the Arabian peninsula.
Geographers have traditionally called it the Persian Gulf — after ancient Persia which is now called Iran. The Arabs would prefer to call it the Arabian Gulf.
State-run Tehran radio reported Wednesday that the dispute broke out a day earlier during a ceremony marking the departure of the Qatari emir, Sheik Hamad bin-Khalifa al-Thani.
The emir, seeking diplomatic goodwill, said he hoped Iran's national soccer team would bring pride to all the "Arabic Persian Gulf" region during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Not missing a beat, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shot back:
"I believe you called it the Persian Gulf when you studied in school."
Qatar's emir, who signed several economic agreements and met top Iranian leaders during his visit, sought to ease the tension, saying "by the way, the gulf belongs to all (neighboring countries)."
Qatar and five other Arab states share the gulf waters with Iran, whose population and language are largely non-Arab.
Ahmadinejad's prickly response was apparently triggered by efforts to protect the term Persian Gulf against the use of Arabian Gulf, which Tehran views as an imposition by Arab nationalists.
Iran reacted strongly in 2004 when the eighth edition of the National Geographic atlas was released with the term Arabian Gulf in parenthesis beside the more commonly used Persian Gulf. Tehran banned that edition of the atlas, as well as National Geographic journalists, until the map for the Gulf region was changed.
Tehran's city council also passed a resolution to name "Persian Gulf Highway" the main road connecting the capital to the south of the country.
Historically the body of water has been known as the Persian Gulf, but Arab nationalists such as late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser and former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein made attempts to rename it the Arabian Gulf.
Iran has warned that it would not attend the 2006 Asian Games if host Qatar continues to use the term Arabian Gulf while advertising the games.