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Iran: Leader Presses Baku To Limit U.S. Ties, Criticizes Foreign Powers

Tehran, 19 May 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei today pressed Azerbaijan to avoid closer ties with the United States and blamed foreign powers for blocking a resolution to a dispute over the Caspian Sea. During talks with visiting Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, Khamenei said some "big powers" he did not mention by name were not in favour of solving regional problems, including the Caspian issue, through dialogue.

Yet, Iranian President Mohammad Khatammi told Aliyev that he hopes the Caspian dispute would be solved "in a friendly way."

The question of dividing the sea's vast oil reserves has been contentious since the collapse of the Soviet Union saw the emergence of four new independent states on its shores. Iran is seeking a minimum one-fifth of the seabed for itself, while the four other coastal states -- Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan -- insist on a deal that would leave Tehran with a much lesser stake.

In other news, an Iranian newspaper today reports that the lawyer of leading Iranian liberal opposition members has been sentenced to five months in jail for defamation against the country's conservative Judiciary.

The "Noruz" newspaper says Mohammad Dadkhah, a lawyer for members of the outlawed Liberation Movement of Iran (LMI), has also been banned from courts for the next 10 years for allegedly "spreading lies" about Tehran's Revolutionary Court. The report could not be independently confirmed.

LMI leader Ibrahim Yazdi, who returned to Tehran last month after receiving medical treatment in the United States, currently stands trial before the Revolutionary Court on charges of harming national security.