Mirza Khazar: Iranian-Azerbaijani Tensions Persist (2001)
Relations between Azerbaijan and the Islamic Republic of Iran have become even more tense in recent days. According
to the local press, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi has postponed his planned visit to Baku. At the same time, the press service of the Iranian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement reiterating Iranian claims on the status of Caspian Sea, as well as Iranian claims on parts of the sea regarded by official Baku as Azerbaijani territory.
At the same time, the press service has warned Western oil companies to stay away from disputed oilfields till the conflict is resolved. The issue was discussed at the CIS summit in Sochi last week. President Heidar Aliev met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to seek Russian support. According to initial reports, the Russian president proposed convening a meeting of four Caspian Sea states (Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan) to draw up a common policy on the status of Caspian Sea. But this report has proved to be unreal. In fact, Turkmenistan immediately reacted by saying that all five Caspian states should meet and decide on legal status of the Caspian Sea.
Moreover, Iranian National Security Council secretary Hassan Rouhani met with the new Russian ambassador to Iran, Aleksandr Maryasov, in Tehran on 6 August and made clear that Iran is not going to give up its initial position in this issue. "Any legal status of the Caspian Sea should be unanimously formulated by the five coastal states," said Rouhani during the meeting. The Russian diplomat in his turn pointed out that his country considers the 1921 and 1940 treaties signed by Iran and the Soviet Union as still valid.
There was no word if the two officials discussed the latest Iranian military actions in the Caspian sea. But from the Azerbaijani point of view the statements made during the meeting in Tehran have not clarified the situation, but rather complicated it. A report printed in the local newspaper "Ekho"on 7 August is also of great interest. According to the newspaper, the head of the press service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iran, Hamid Reza Assefi, said at a press conference in Tehran that Iran is ready to defend its sector of the Caspian. He also said that Iran will have to take measures against foreign companies which decide to continue activities in the sector claimed by Iran.
It is obvious from the statements made in Baku and from the commentaries published in the local press that the Azerbaijani government is trying at least to win Russia's support for Baku's position. And it is obvious that President Aliev's desire to have Russia support Azerbaijan in its conflict with Iran has failed. Moreover, President Aliev's overture toward Moscow may mean first, that President Aliev is desperate to find outside support for his cause against Iran, and second, it also may mean that Western oil companies and the Western governments behind these companies are reluctant to show support for either side of the conflict, prefering to remain neutral and wait for the states involved to solve the issue.
A report in "The Turkish Daily News" of 8 August suggests that so far, only the Turkish government, or Turkish public is eager to help Baku in its conlifct with Iran. "The Turkish Daily News" printed an CNN-Turk interview with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. In response to a question about a possible partnership between Turkey, Israel and Azerbaijan against Iran, Russia and Armenia, Sharon stated that he would raise the issue of cooperating with Baku during his visit to Turkey. "I will say in Ankara that we are willing to enhance relations with Azerbaijan. But, I repeat that this relationship is not against any third country," Sharon said.
It is not clear if the idea of a partnership between Turkey, Israel and Azerbaijan against Iran, Russia and Armenia is purely a journalistic hypothesis or official policcy in Ankara. But as far as it concerns Azerbaijan, this idea has been raised in the local press many times. Whether this idea reflects reality or not is another question.
(Mirza Khazar -7 August 2001)
RFE/RL Azerbaijan Report
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