Iran's Prosecutor-General Mohammad-Jafar Montazeri  meeting Armenian President Nikol Pashinian. October 13, 2021

Azerbaijan Frees Iranian Truck Drivers, But Tensions Still Exist

10/13/2021

Baku freed two Iranian truck drivers whose arrest exacerbated tensions between the two neighbors that have simmered since last year’s Armenia-Azerbaijan war.

The move on Wednesday came a day after Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian spoke by phone with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Jeyhun Bayramov.

In a statement Wednesday, the Azeri foreign ministry said the two sides had agreed that recent " harmful rhetoric" did not reflect friendly bilateral relations. It stressed that disputes over transit roads should be discussed "directly by relevant government agencies," with the two ministers agreeing “the importance of alwaysrespecting the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

The Iranian foreign ministry reported Tuesday evening that Amir-Abdollahian had underlined that Tehran expected a resolution to the problem regarding transit routes. The ministry's website said Amir-Abdollahian had told his Azerbaijani counterpart that the two sides should not "allow enemies to disrupt" their mutual relations and that Bayramov had agreed to pursue the release of the truck drivers. The report said Amir-Abdollahian and Bayramov had agreed to visit each other.

Baku has restricted Iranian access to Armenia along roads it captured from Armenian forces last year, but Iran-Azerbaijan relations have been strained since the war, which deepened Tehran’s concern over the alleged presence of Israel and of jihadist militia recruited in Syria by Turkey close to Iran’s borders.

Since the arrest of Iranian truck drivers, officials and media in both countries have leveled harsh criticisms in strong language. Iran held extensive military drills near the border area after recent joint military drills between Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in a speech on 3 October warned about Israel's military presence in Azerbaijan and said regional countries should not allow foreign armies to interfere. He appeared to also accuse Turkey, an Azeri ally, of encouraging a standoff between Iran and Azerbaijan

Tehran is also seeking to bolster relations with Armenia, generally considered the loser in last year’s war. On three-day visit to Yerevan, Iran's Prosecutor-General Mohammad-Jafar Montazeri met Wednesday with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, whose office in a statementsaid relations between Tehran and Yerevan were a "good base to resist all the challenges existing in the region.”

Iran's official news agency IRNA reported that Pashinyan had stressed the importance of implementing recent agreements reached with Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) in Tashkent over renewing gas and electricity exchanges.

Some politicians and media in Iran have suggested a military pact with Armenia.

In a commentary headlined "Calm the turbulence north of Aras [River] with an Iranian military base" October 3, Javan newspaper strongly criticized Baku, for what it said was collaboration with Israel, and Ankara for alleged expansionist plans. The newspaper, which is affiliated to the Revolutionary Guards, suggested building an Iranian military base in Armenia's Syunik Province to guard against geopolitical changes.

"It appears that this would be a better way than continual military drills south of the Aras river," the commentary noted. The Aras divides Iran from Azerbaijan.

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