Iran warns UAE relations are at risk over Gulf island claims

* 41-year-old dispute has nationalist overtones

* UAE spoke last month of Iran's "occupation"

* Iran says UAE claims are "baseless"

DUBAI, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Iran warned the United ArabEmirates on Tuesday it would consider cutting diplomatic ties ifthe federation pressed its claim to three disputed tiny Gulfislands which both countries say are theirs, Iranian mediareported.

The three islands of Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbsit near important oil shipping channels at the mouth of thestrategic Strait of Hormuz and were claimed by the U.S.-backedShah of Iran in 1971, just before the seven Gulf emirates wonindependence from Britain and formed the UAE.

Iran has said its sovereignty over the three islands isnon-negotiable and Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman RaminMehmanparast said on Tuesday Iran would consider downgradingties with the UAE if it continued to make claims.

"If the baseless anti-Iranian claims reach a point wherenational interests lie in lessening or cutting politicalrelations, this step will be taken with consultation and basedon expert analysis," Mehmanparast was quoted as saying byparliamentary news agency Icana.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran stands firm in defence of itsterritorial integrity," he said.

Last month, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayedal-Nahayan said Iran's "occupation" of the three islands wasagainst international law.

"We hope the Iranian government will deal with thissensitive and important issue in a positive and just manner," hesaid while visiting New York for the United Nations GeneralAssembly, according to UAE state news agency WAM.

The 41-year-old dispute between Shi'ite Iran and the SunniUAE has nationalist and ethnic overtones and has been inflamedin recent months after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadvisited Abu Musa in April.

In response, the UAE recalled its ambassador from Tehran forconsultations, calling the visit a "flagrant violation" of itssovereignty.

(Reporting By Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

((yeganeh.torbati@thomsonreuters.com)(+971 50 698 8495)(ReutersMessaging: yeganeh.torbati.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net))

Keywords: IRAN UAE/