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Iranian Defense Minister In Baku For Security Talks

Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi
Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi
BAKU -- Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi arrived today in Baku on a two-day visit to discuss expanding bilateral military cooperation and regional security, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Vahidi told journalists at the Baku airport that his meetings with Azerbaijani officials will be beneficial for both countries and for the region. He said he will also discuss Caspian Sea-region security and stability issues with Azerbaijani officials.

Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev told Vahidi that Baku wants stability in the region but that Armenia's aggression against Azerbaijan undermines regional security, the Defense Ministry's press service reported.

"Some states have not recognized Armenia as an aggressor state. They render economic and military assistance to the aggressor while declaring Azerbaijan a friendly and brotherly country," Abiyev said.

Iran has political and economic ties with both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Yerevan and Baku went to war from 1991-94 over the breakaway Azerbaijani region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is controlled by ethnic Armenians.

Some analysts say Iran wants to use the Qabala radar station, which Azerbaijan currently leases to Russia.

Azerbaijani military expert Uzeyir Cafarov told RFE/RL that Iran is concerned with its own security.

"Iran is concerned that U.S. soldiers could come to the region and create a threat to Iran. But Azerbaijan has its own interests, and the final decisions [regarding Qabala] will become known early next year," Cafarov said.

Niyaz Yaqublu, who heads a Baku think tank, says Iran is taking diplomatic steps in the South Caucasus because it fears international sanctions. "But Iran has not changed its basic attitude toward Azerbaijan; this country's political existence and economic development are not advantageous for Iran," he said.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmedinejad and parliament speaker Ali Larijani -- who is on a visit to Armenia today -- are scheduled to visit Baku in November.

Iran canceled its visa requirement for Azerbaijanis early this year, but Azerbaijan has not reciprocated as it fears an influx of migrants from Iran.

An estimated 15 to 25 percent of Iran's population of some 74 million people are ethnic Azeris.