TENSE DISCUSSIONS IN BAKU.

Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 142

Unlike the Yerevan meeting, that in Baku was marked by mutual recriminations between Hojatolislam Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and the Azerbaijani leaders. Expressing Iran’s long-held positions, Rowhani criticized Azerbaijan for its semi-official hints that it would welcome NATO troops in the country, its good relations with Israel (in Rowhani’s words at the concluding briefing, “the world’s most criminal state”), and its insistence on the division of the Caspian Sea into national sectors in accordance with international law.

An officially inspired analysis in the Tehran daily Iran News asserted that close relations among Russia, Armenia and Iran, as well as legal disputes in the Caspian Sea, are generating a fear of isolation in Azerbaijan. The analysis listed conditions for fence mending. Those would require Azerbaijan to distance itself from NATO, Israel and Turkey, as well as giving up its stand on the sectoral division of the Caspian Sea. In Baku, Rowhani reaffirmed Iran’s position that the 1921 and 1940 agreements between Moscow and Tehran on the legal status of the Caspian Sea remain valid until the five littoral countries find consensus on a new treaty.

In his public remarks during Rowhani’s visit, Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev ruled out any cooling in Baku’s relations with the United States and Israel. He asserted as well that “there is no turning away from [Azerbaijan’s] path of secular statehood–an older point of difference between Baku and Tehran. The latter had in recent years chosen to de-emphasize that issue.

Aliev accepted Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s invitation to pay an official visit to Tehran next month. That visit has several times been postponed because of differences that proved difficult to reconcile. On July 23, two days after Rowhani had left Baku, an Iranian warship chased an Azerbaijani vessel with British oilmen aboard from an Azerbaijani offshore oil development, which the government of Iran proceeded to claim as its own. The incident has probably torpedoed Aliev’s visit to Tehran for the foreseeable future (Bakinskiy Rabochiy, July 21; Turan, ANS, Iran News, IRNA, July 20-22).

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