Azeri president to visit Iran as bilateral ties warm

Ilham Aliyev, long a key ally of Israel in the region, says meeting with Rouhani ‘a new chapter’ in relations with Tehran

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev (photo credit: Flash90)
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev (photo credit: Flash90)

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev will visit Iran in April to discuss expanding ties between the two counties, the semi-official Iranian Fars news site reported Saturday.

“The visit is to take place late April upon an invitation of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani,” the Iranian ambassador to Azerbaijan, Baku Mohsen, was quoted as saying.

Aliyev has been a trusted friend and ally to the West – and especially to Israel – and the key to a transformation that has developed oil-rich Azerbaijan from a small nation in Iran’s shadow to a strategic ally and an avid consumer of Israeli arms.

Israel has cultivated ties with the Muslim nation, which has enormous reserves of oil and natural gas and a 380-mile southern border with Iran.

On Saturday, Aliyev was quoted as saying that a meeting with his counterpart Rouhani at a conference in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year marked “a new chapter… in the bilateral relations” between the two countries.

The official visit comes despite the fact that Iranians have been convicted of seeking to attack Israeli interests in Azerbaijan.

Last October, an Iranian citizen was sentenced to 15 years in jail for planning an attack on the Israeli Embassy in Baku. He also was accused of being an Iranian secret service agent.

Iran’s embassy in Azerbaijan criticized the ruling, saying the charges against the man were unfounded, Iran’s Press TV reported.

Twenty-two people were arrested in Azerbaijan in March 2013 on suspicion of planning to attack American, Israeli and Jewish targets, including the US and Israeli embassies, a Jewish Agency for Israel facility and an American fast-food restaurant.

At least seven people have been sentenced to jail time for the planned attack, according to AFP.

In January, at least two men were arrested after planning an attack on two Israeli teachers and Chabad emissaries at the Or Avner school in Baku.

Azerbaijan has denied persistent reports that it has given Israel permission to launch from its territory an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

JTA contributed to this report.

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