Iran and Azerbaijan are taking steps to soothe bilateral tensions most recently stoked by Baku’s ties to Israel and its reported purchase of hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons from the Jewish state.
Public assurances of good neighborly relations were being made in Tehran during a visit by Azerbaijan Defense Minister Safar Abiyev that continued into its second day on Tuesday.
“We are sure that we will face no problem from our brother and neighbor Azerbaijan,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying on Monday after meeting Abiyev.
“Rest assured that Tehran-Baku ties will never be harmed,” he said, adding that “artificial problems” that existed would be resolved and ties would be strengthened.
Abiyev was quoted as saying that “no nation can damage ties between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan.”
He vowed that his country “will not allow anyone to use its soil and airspace against the Islamic Republic of Iran, since we consider Iran as a friend and brother.”
The professed closeness sought to mend a rift opened up by Iranian news reports that Azerbaijan had bought $1.5 billion worth of weapons from Israel.
Iran’s foreign ministry last month summoned Azerbaijan’s ambassador to Tehran to request an explanation about the purchase, and to deliver a warning that Israel must not be permitted to use Azerbaijan to stage “terrorist acts” against Iran.
While Azerbaijan did not confirm the arms deal with Israel at the time, it did say it was boosting its arsenal “to liberate occupied Azerbaijani land” and it did not have hostile intentions against other countries in the region.
The “occupied land” referred to the disputed region of Nagorny Karabakh which was seized from Azerbaijan by Armenian forces during a war in the 1990s. No peace deal has been signed between Azerbaijan and Armenia despite years of negotiations since a 1994 ceasefire.
Abiyev discussed the weapons issue in greater detail on Monday with Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi.
After their meeting, Abiyev was quoted by the Iranian news agency ISNA as saying: “These relations (with Israel) are not the way that the media have portrayed and I don’t want the media to take this issue so seriously.”
Vahidi added: “We talked about this issue with our Azerbaijani friends and they explained to us that it is not as it was reported by the media, and that the deal goes back to previous years and that amount is not that much.”
Neither minister elaborated on the Azerbaijan-Israel arms deal.
The problem with that deal emerged after a separate incident in Azerbaijan in which police said they arrested an unspecified number of people linked to Iran and to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah on suspicion of planning attacks in the country.
Iran last month also accused Azerbaijan, which is mainly Muslim, of working with Israel’s spy services and helping assassins who murdered Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years − a claim rejected by Baku as “slander.”