Upset with Iran, Baku moves closer to Israel

 Azerbaijan is pursuing ties with Israel amid anger at Iran’s close relationship with Armenia that it sees as ‘the cause for Armenian intransigence on Karabakh’

Azerbaijan criticized neighboring Iran for “giving life” to Armenia by supplying natural gas and oil to its rival while defending its own growing relationship with Israel for security and technological needs, in an already-tense Caucasus.

“Iran has more than 30 agreements with Armenia, where it has an embassy as well. It supplies [Armenia] with energy, with natural gas and oil. It builds new roads for transportation. If Armenia is so tough in negotiations [over Nagorno-Karabakh] it’s because the support it receives from Iran as well as from Russia. Iran gives life to Armenia,” Azar Azimov, deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview in Baku on Oct. 5.

Ties between Iran and its northern neighbor Azerbaijan have been strained recently after Tehran accused Baku of overlooking the activities of Israel within its territory, from where Israeli intelligence conducted the assassination of some of its nuclear experts last year. It also described Israeli-Azeri rapprochement as against Iran. “Our relationship with Israel is a bilateral one, Iran should not feel disturbed by it,” Azimov said, adding that his country has not allowed and will not allow any third party to use its soil to attack Iran.

Defying criticisms coming from Iran over its growing relationship with Israel, Azimov said, “Why wouldn’t we establish ties with Israel? We have similar security interests with Israel. Did not Turkey have such cooperation with Israel in the past?” Azerbaijan signed a $1.6 billion deal with Israel in a bid to provide hi-tech defense equipment. Iran sought an explanation from Azerbaijan after the deal.

Re-emphasizing growing Iranian ties with Armenia, Azimov said “Iran should think about this as well. It should not cooperate with Armenia until the occupation ends, like Turkey.” Though showing the importance his country puts on its ties with Israel, the Azerbaijani diplomat refused to call it a “strategic relationship.” “Strategic cooperation shows a very unique relationship. Parties enjoying strategic ties take every step through consultations. Like Turkey and Azerbaijan. We are improving our relations with Israel, making deals on defense and technology, but this does not mean that we are strategic partners,” he said.

Azimov said Azerbaijan was a Muslim country and its policy was based on the establishment of a sovereign state of Palestine. “We are at the same time against Israel’s settlement policies,” he said, adding that his country’s policy was based on principles Azeri public opinion supported. On Azerbaijan’s most important issue, the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, the Azeri diplomat painted a rather pessimistic picture given the fact that the cease-fire between Azerbaijani and Armenian troops has almost broken 20 years after the occupation of Azeri lands.

“If this cease-fire is broken, the lives of so many people will be at risk, especially Azerbaijani civilians living in the region, as well as troops. Azerbaijan will be more affected by this as no civilians live in the Armenian part of the occupied Azeri lands,” he said. Armenia is trying to oblige Azerbaijani to give a stronger response and totally suspend negotiations in a move to gain more time to freeze the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, according to the diplomat.

Unlike Armenia, Azerbaijan is making fresh proposals to break the stalemate in talks, he said. The first is to let all Minsk Group countries participate in the negotiation process, as the talks under the auspices of three co-chair countries; France, the United States and Russia; are not going anywhere.

Secondly, Azerbaijan is demanding the establishment of a concrete road map outlining the steps that will be taken in a timeline.

SERKAN DEMIRTAS- HURRIYET

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