Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 155

President Heydar Aliyev and other Azerbaijani officials conferred December 12 and 13 in Baku with Iran’s deputy foreign minister Mahmud Vaezi. Both sides at the talks were cited as seeking to overcome the "cool" state of bilateral relations. In what sounded like allusions to Russia, Armenia, or the USA, the Iranian and Azerbaijani officials pledged not to allow any "third country" to block an improvement of Iranian-Azerbaijani relations. Vaezi carried an invitation from Iran’s president Aliakbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for Aliyev to visit Iran soon, which Aliyev accepted "in principle." Vaezi also brought the gift of eight Azeri prisoners of war whose release he had secured on a visit just completed to Armenia and Karabakh; and he offered Iran’s good offices toward the release of all Azeri prisoners. Focusing on a rare bright spot in bilateral relations, Aliyev thanked Iran for supplying energy and food to Azerbaijan’s exclave Nakhichevan and for allowing Azerbaijani transport to circumvent Armenian territory via Iran in order to reach Nakhichevan; and Vaezi offered supplementary deliveries to Nakhichevan in discussions with Azeri officials. The Iranians expressed willingness to consider Azerbaijan’s offer of a stake in developing its Shah-Deniz oil and gas field, subject to a cost analysis of this major multinational project on the Caspian shelf. The meeting also decided to draw up an agreement on guarantees for Iranian investments in Azerbaijan, and to set up a joint committee which would work out a common position on the Caspian Sea’s legal status. (16)

In order to achieve the desired improvement in relations, the sides would have to overcome chronic differences stemming mainly from Iranian suspicions. Iran harbors historic fears of Azerbaijani irredentism in Iran’s Azerbaijan province, and partly for this reason has tilted toward Armenia in the Karabakh war. Historic Persian-Turkic animosities also remain a factor. The mullahs’ regime has injected its own ideological perspective in its policy toward Azerbaijan by denouncing its choice of building a secular state, its relations with the USA and other Western countries, and its encouragement of Western investments in Caspian projects. Iran verbally supports Russia’s attempts to draw up a Caspian legal status that would contain Western penetration of the region, while Azerbaijan resists Moscow’s proposals. But these attitudes toward Azerbaijan may be less than general in Tehran. A vituperative attack on Azerbaijan and Aliyev personally in the governmental Iran News on the eve of Vaezi’s visit was clearly at odds with that visit’s tone and with Rafsanjani’s invitation for Aliyev to visit. Also in the runup to the Baku talks, Iran’s Oil Minister Gholamreza Aqazadeh offered to make Iran’s pipeline system available to Caspian countries for exporting oil to international markets via the Persian Gulf, thus implicitly challenging Moscow’s strategy to divert those countries’ exports via Russia. Azerbaijan, defeated in the Karabakh war with Armenia and facing Russian economic and military pressures, clearly needs a more friendly Iran; but it must also worry lest improved relations with Iran meet with disapproval from some of its Western partners.

1. Reuter, December 15; Interfax, December 14

2. Russian TV, December 14

3. Interfax, December 14

4. Interfax, December 14

5. Interfax-Ukraine and Reuter, December 13 and 14

6. Interfax-West, December 13

7. BNS, Reuter, December 13

8. Interfax-Ukraine, December 14

9. Interfax, December 14

10. Reuter, December 14

11. Interfax, Reuters, December 14

12. Reuter, December 14

13. Interfax, December 14

14. BNS, December 10 through 14; Reuter, December 14

15. Nezavisimaya Moldova and Flux, December 12

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