Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov’s four-day visit to Iran, just completed, has occasioned a full airing of the two countries’ serious disagreements, but equally highlighted their willingness to prevent these disagreements from degenerating into confrontation. The main goals of Zulfugarov’s visit were to raise Iranian concern over Russia’s growing military presence in Armenia and to prepare an Azerbaijani-Iranian exchange of presidential visits. Zulfugarov also raised the long-pending issue of opening an Azerbaijani consulate in Tabriz, the main city in Iran’s Azeri-populated north. Almost certainly he complained about Iran’s apparent willingness to host Azerbaijani rebel Mahir Javadov and allow him to propagandize into Azerbaijan from Iran.
In their talks with Zulfugarov, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, Majlis chairman Ali-Akbar Natek-Nuri and Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani proved unreceptive to Azerbaijan’s concern about Russian pressure upon the region. They criticized Azerbaijani government for: (1) its offers to cooperate with the United States, NATO and Turkey on matters of regional security, (2) its growing links of friendship with Israel, (3) its “one-sided” implementation of the principle of division of the Caspian Sea into national sectors and its open-door policy toward Western nations and companies, and (4) its support for the Baku-Ceyhan (Turkey) oil pipeline and the trans-Caspian-South Caucasus-Turkey gas pipeline. The Iranian leaders urged Azerbaijan to “clarify” its policies and “reorient itself toward its southern neighbor” Iran.
The Iranian leaders offered to mediate in the Karabakh conflict and to facilitate a relaxation of tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Baku declined this offer yesterday. The presidential visits remain on the agenda, but no date has been set (IRNA, Iran News (Tehran), Turan, March 12-17).
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