BAKU-TEHRAN 22 July (IPS) "Azerbaijan will never become a religious state nor will cut off relations with the United States or Israel, despite pressure from Tehran", the Azeri President Heydar Aliyev has told Hojjatoleslam Hasan Rohani, the Secretary of the Islamic Republic's Supreme Council on National Security (SCNS). Aliyev made the remarks late Friday to Mr. Rohani who was on an official visit to Baku, the Capital of neighbouring Azerbaijan.
"We are following the path and will continue to follow the path of secular statehood", Mr. Aliyev said, adding: "We cannot turn away from that path", according to the official government newspaper, quoted by the French news agency Agence France Presse.
The Islamic Republic of Iran and the staunchly secular Republic of Azerbaijan also traded accusations of supporting each other's enemies during the just concluded visit to this neighbour by the powerful yet secretive cleric, Iran's chief negociator on security affairs.
The two sides also traded sharp accusations of supporting each other's traditional enemies, as Mr. Rohani cited the example of Azerbaijan-Israel friendship in response to Baku's accusations of warm relations between Iran and Armenia, the Azerbaijan News Service (ANS) said.
"The Azeri Ambassador to Iran, Abbasali Hasanov suggested not to touch upon this topic so as not to raise tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran", ANS said, adding that a statement by Mr. Ramiz Mehdiyef, the Head of the presidential Administration of Azerbaijan (PAA) saying that Azerbaijan hasn't any diplomatic representative in Israel was "kind of justificatory character", since the Azeri Foreign Minister, Mr. Velayat Guiliev had contradicted him, observing that the failure to open Azerbaijan's embassy in Tel Aviv was linked only with "technical problems".
"It should be noted that the head of Azerbaijan's foreign diplomacy didn't exclude that the nation would open its embassy in Israel in future", ANS bluntly said.
Guiliev has also regretted that though Azerbaijan has allowed Iran to open a consulate in Nekhchivan, Iran has not reciprocated.
Iran and Azerbaijan share close historical, religious and cultural affinities. In both countries most people are Shi'ite Muslims and Iran has a sizeable ethnic Azeri population.
But ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent states from the vanishing empire, relations have been tense between the two neighbours, mostly because of Islamic Republic's efforts to turn this country, formerly part of the Iranian Empire, into an Iran style Islamic State.
Row over the juridical status of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan's secularism and close relations with both the US and Israel in the one hand and Iran's expanded relations with the Orthodox Armenia and Russia on the other have further deteriorated ties, despite historical religious, cultural and ethnic affinities.
"Mr. Rohani's visit to Caucasus, particularly to Azerbaijan is part of Iran's unabated but so far futile efforts to consolidate its position in this strategic region", said Mr. Mohammad Arrasi, a US-based Iranian expert on the area, commenting on the purpose of Mr. Rohani's visit to Caucasus, but most particularly to Azerbaijan.
In his opinion, by tying its policy to that of Russia in the region in the one hand and becoming the flag bearer of anti-American, anti-Israeli crusade, Iran has lost all the potential it should otherwise have naturally in Caucasus and Central Asia, most of them being part of the Persian Empire some hundred years ago, he noted.
"By Russianising its policy in the region, by forming odd alliances with Armenia, Russia and Greece in order to counter the expanding influence of the US-Turkey-Israel and Azerbaijan axis, not only Iran has been isolated in this strategic area, but also subject to provocations from Azerbaijan", Mr. Arrasi observed.
But ignoring the Azeri's rather undiplomatically attitude and blunt remarks, the official media played a friendly tune, describing the outcome of Mr. Rohani's visit to Baku as "positive".
Rohani and Aliyev discussed further opening up their shared border for trade, and the need for a speedy agreement on how to divide up the oil-rich Caspian Sea between the five nations which border it.
The Iranian official also said Tehran was keen to help mediate in the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the Azeri territory which Armenian separatists occupied in a 1989-94 war.
"Welcoming Iran's aid to solve the Karabakh problem, (Azeri President) Aliyev said since the Islamic Republic enjoys friendly ties with Armenia, the country may leave positive impact on Armenia's stands. Baku is ready to co-operate with Iran in this regard, he added", according to the official Iranian news agency IRNA.
Azeri President Heydar Aliyev voiced his country's readiness to continue negotiations with the Caspian Sea littoral states on the sea's legal regime.
While other littoral states, namely Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have reached agreements concerning the sharing of the Sea's waters and bedside, Iran has remain alone, insisting on the sharing of the resources on either equal basis or the old Tehran-Moscow accords.
"Underlining the need for determining the legal regime of the Caspian Sea, he stressed that different issues related to the sea including energy resources, sea creatures, shipping and the environmental issues may be solved in the course of appropriate time", IRNA added.
"On June 8th presidential elections in Iran, President Aliyev said that the election was held in a democratic atmosphere. He further congratulated the Iranian government and nation on re election of President Mohammad Khatami", the agency said, quoting Mr. Aliyev hinting that he would begin his official visit to the Islamic Republic as soon as the new (Iranian) cabinet is formed".
There are several Tehran-Baku joint projects, which have been ceased, he said calling for continuation of the projects.
The Azeri president underlined the need for rapid implementation of the North-South transport route that he termed it as very important and fundamental project.
Commenting on various common religious and cultural points between the two states, he said that a special relation should be established between the two countries, in sharp contrast with Azeri press reports.
President Khatami's foreign policy is based on establishment of friendly ties with neighbouring states and detente policy, he said adding that such a policy is approved by all the Iranian people.
The Islamic Republic believes in mutual respect and non-intervention in other countries' domestic affairs, Rohani added, voicing Iran's concern of Baku's close relations with the United States and Israel, a country Iran want to erase from the map of the region.
Announcing Iran's satisfaction with the current level of Tehran-Baku bilateral cooperation, he said there are great potentials that should be used in line with promotion of bilateral relations.
Rohani, heading a delegation, began a regional tour to Armenia, Georgia, and the Republic of Azerbaijan on Monday.