Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati’s visit to Baku — officially to deliver an invitation to Azerbaijani president Haidar Aliev for the next Islamic Conference Organization summit in Tehran — turned instead into an occasion for the two countries to air their differences. Velayati admonished Aliev and Foreign Minister Hassan Hassanov for failing to participate in "efforts to stop the West, led by the U.S., from penetrating the region," and blamed the same "forces far removed from the region," along with their "shabby goals," for the stalemate in the Karabakh conflict. Velayati also restated Tehran’s support for defining the legal status of the Caspian Sea and its resources along the lines of the "common ownership" concept promoted by Russia. At the same time, Velayati urged the restoration of Azerbaijani control over Armenian-held areas in Azerbaijan proper and the return of Azerbaijani refugees to their homes. The Baku leaders asked Tehran to use its close relations with Yerevan in order to moderate the latter’s negotiating position.
Velayati continued stonewalling Azerbaijan’s long-standing request to open a consulate in Tabriz, the main city in Azeri-inhabited northern Iran. No public mention was made of Baku’s recent charges that Iran had served as a transit point for a portion of Russia’s massive arms deliveries to Armenia, nor of the recent trial of Azerbaijan’s Islamic Party leaders on charges of working for Iranian intelligence. But these issues undoubtedly figured in the talks. Velayati’s arrival coincided with a declaration by Islamic Party activists that denounced the trial of their leaders as "a challenge to Islam." It also created an interim party leadership pending an extraordinary congress of the party, which is not legally registered. (Interfax, Turan, April 22-23; Sharg, April 21)
Tajik Government Moves Undermine Recent Agreements with Opposition.