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Azerbaijan: Minister Says Iran On Verge Of Big Changes

Washington, 2 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Vilayet Gouliyev says President Heydar Aliyev will visit Iran soon to seek improvement in ties between the two countries.

Gouliyev did not disclose a specific date or itinerary for Aliev's visit. He did say the trip will take place in the near future. Gouliyev said there are certain problems in the bilateral relationship that must be addressed.

In remarks to foreign policy specialists and journalists at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Washington office on Friday, Gouliyev said better relations with Iran are a priority for Azerbaijan.

Gouliyev said that one of Azerbaijan's concerns is the condition of the ethnic Azerbaijani population of Iran. Iran's population is nearly 70 million, and ethnic Azerbaijanis make up an estimated 24 percent of the total.

The foreign minister said Azerbaijanis in Iran, "are deprived of the right to have an education in their own language." He said they have no institutes of higher learning, and only a few publications are printed in Azeri.

Gouliyev said that, "this is naturally a cause for concern of the intelligentsia both in the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Azerbaijani intelligentsia in Iran."

Azerbaijan follows a policy of non-interference in Iran's internal affairs, said Gouliyev, but he also said Azerbaijan considers Azerbaijanis living in Iran as though they were living in their "historical homeland."

For its part, Gouliyev said Iran is critical of Azerbaijan for seeking U.S. assistance in developing its Caspian Sea energy resources. He said Iran is also concerned about the development of relations between Azerbaijan and Israel.

Gouliyev said that despite contentious issues, he is optimistic that relations will improve. He said the growing political power of moderates and reformers in the Islamic republic is proof that Iran wants to end its isolation.

He said that Iran, "is on the verge of big changes and these changes will be beneficial not only for Iran but also for the region and the world as well."