Iranian President Visits Azerbaijan, Calls For Closer Ties

Radio Free Europe, Czech Republic
Aug 6 2004

Iran/Azerbaijan: Iranian President Visits Azerbaijan, Calls For
Closer Ties
By Antoine Blua

Ilham Aliyev said relations with Iran are improving

Prague, 6 August 2004 (RFE/RL) — Azerbaijan and Iran share a border
but this has not been enough to foster close relations between the
two. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami is visiting Azerbaijan this
week. It’s the first official trip to the neighboring country by an
Iranian leader in more than 10 years.

The three-day trip began yesterday and featured talks between Khatami
and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. Speaking after the meeting,
Khatami called for closer bilateral ties. He said history and
geography have brought the fates of the two countries together.

“The border between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of
Azerbaijan is a border of peace, friendship, and brotherhood,”
Khatami said.

Khatami said an Azerbaijani consular office will open in the
northwestern Iranian city of Tabriz, the center of an Iranian
province where millions of ethnic Azeris live. The sides also signed
an agreement to improve road and rail links and to fund building an
electricity line between Imisli in southern Azerbaijan and Astara at
the Iranian border. “We have always felt Iran’s support in the
conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh.” –

Azerbaijani leader Aliyev expressed satisfaction about the
agreements, saying he believes relations between Azerbaijan and Iran
are developing successfully. “The implementation of the agreements
signed will create thousands of jobs in Azerbaijan,” he said. “And
agreements on energy and gas swaps will allow us to provide [the
Autonomous Republic of] Nakichevan, which is integral part of
Azerbaijan, with electricity and gas.”

On the political front, Aliyev praised Iran for what he called its
“support” for Azerbaijan in the conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh
enclave. “We have always felt Iran’s support in the conflict between
Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh,” he said. “And we are
still feeling that today.”

Khatami said Iran is ready to contribute to a peaceful solution of
the conflict. He added that Iran considers Nagorno-Karabakh part of
Azerbaijan and that the use of force in settling international
problems is “unacceptable.”

However, talks did not produce any breakthrough on the issue of the
maritime borders of the Caspian Sea, which touches both countries.
The legal status of the Caspian, which contains large reserves of oil
and gas, has been in dispute since the Soviet Union collapsed in

Davood Hermidas Bavand teaches international law in Tehran. He said
the visit was important nevertheless. “The significance of the visit
is [the] development of good neighborly relationships with
Azerbaijan, bearing in mind that we have certain difficulties with
that state in connection with the Caspian Sea,” he said. “The very
objective of this visit is to [come to terms with] existing problems.
When the two parties accept this kind of communication, it’s an
indication that there is a certain intention for improvement of the
existing problems.”

Experts in Baku suggested the two sides would also discuss the
growing U.S. military presence in Azerbaijan, which has contributed
to the U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq. But neither side was ready
to comment.

Khatami addressed Azerbaijan’s parliament today and met with the
parliamentary speaker. He is expected to visit Ganca, Azerbaijan’s
second-largest city, tomorrow before returning to Iran.