By Emil Danielyan
Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliev reportedly urged Iran to exert “economic pressure” on Armenia to facilitate a resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict during an official visit to the Islamic Republic which he concluded on Wednesday.
According to an Azerbaijani television report monitored by the BBC, Aliev made the appeal at a meeting on Tuesday with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, chairman of the Iranian government’s Expediency Council and the country’s former president.
“We would like Iran to continue to maintain the position on Nagorno-Karabakh that it has expressed within the framework of international organizations,” he was quoted as saying. “At the same time, we want official Tehran to exert economic pressure on Armenia.”
Iran has formally supported Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity in the Karabakh conflict both under Rafsanjani and his successor Mohammad Khatami. However, that has not prevented it from developing close political and economic relations with Armenia. Tehran’s refusal to join the Turkish and Azerbaijani blockades of Armenia is often construed by Azerbaijani politicians as a sign of its pro-Armenian stance.
For its part, Iran is unhappy with Azerbaijan’s growing security ties with the United States. Azerbaijani media have speculated in recent months about an eventual deployment of U.S. troops in Azerbaijani territory. The Itar-Tass news agency said Iran’s powerful Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Aliev that the Americans must not be allowed to influence relations between the two neighboring nations.
Aliev was careful to avoid any public criticism of Iranian policy during the three-day trip. "Relations between Teheran and Baku are developing quickly, and nothing can stop this development," he said, according to Itar-Tass.
There was no word on what concrete forms Iranian pressure on the Armenians should take in Aliev’s view. Armenia and Iran maintain brisk cross-border trade and have developed a number of multimillion-dollar bilateral economic projects such as the ongoing construction of a major gas pipeline.
Aliev’s visit to Tehran resulted in the signing of a dozen Iranian-Azerbaijani agreements on bilateral cooperation in a wide range of areas.