Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev’s decision to proceed with an official visit to Iran (see the Monitor, January 20) has been facilitated by a recent, slight thaw in bilateral relations. Even amid thorny disagreements on a wide range of issues (see the Monitor, January 20), official Tehran has toned down or even dropped some of its earlier recriminations against Baku. Those familiar polemics against Azerbaijan’s choice of a secular path of development, close relations with “Zionism,” and inclination to join a West-East, Turkey-Azerbaijan-Israel “axis”–as opposed to a North-South, Russia-Armenia-Iran “axis”–no longer occupy the place they once did in Tehran’s official discourse. Iran seems, moreover, to have scaled back the financial and other forms of support it had earlier extended to Islamists in Azerbaijan.
Attributable, presumably, to the influence of moderate factions in Tehran, these changes could not long fail to resonate in Baku. A commentary last week in the newspaper of the governing party took official note of a “thaw that has been sensed in the last two months.” Most recently at the United Nations, Iran supported an amendment which explicitly confirmed Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in a General Assembly document. The amendment passed by a single vote, underscoring the significance of Iran’s move, which by the same token disappointed Armenia.
Azerbaijan has made some reciprocal gestures. Last week it allowed Haji Aliakram, a former leader of the unauthorized Islamic Party, to go for medical treatment to Iran, following his release from jail under a presidential pardon. During the course of this month, Aliev underscored the need to include Iran in a pact for stability and cooperation in the South Caucasus–the initiative that is currently being pursued by Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan (see the Monitor, January 18; the Fortnight in Review, January 21).
Foreign Affairs Minister Vilayet Guliev has declared that “Azerbaijan should update its relations with Iran. We need to seek a warm-up in these relations.” The statement–and the idea itself–seems conditioned in part by the current Russian pressures, which require Azerbaijan to seek the stabilization of its southern flank. Aliev’s upcoming visit to Iran can not be expected to settle the basic contentious issues in any conclusive manner, since they tend to reflect divergent interests. But the visit can stabilize the relationship, avoid tensions–as they would not be in anybody’s interest–and perhaps help accustom Iran to living with Azerbaijan’s Western orientation (Yeni Azerbaijan, January 14; Yeni Musavat, January 18; Turan, Trend, Azer-Press, Assa-Irada, Caspian News, IRNA, January 18-20; see the Fortnight in Review, January 7).
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