Minister: Azerbaijan not to be used for Iran strike

Azerbaijan`s defense minister has said Baku will not act against or allow its territory to be used for an attack on ``great Iran``, in a statement that came after tension emerged between the two countries in past months.

Gen. Safar Abiyev said in Iran on Monday that Azerbaijan`s recent arms deal with Israel -- which raised Tehran`s concerns -- is in line with international law, adding that Baku would not use the purchased weaponry against the neighboring country, Iranian media reported.

Abiyev said that Baku wants peace, stability, and security in the region, and that closer military cooperation with Iran would guarantee regional peace.

Abiyev was speaking after his talks with Iranian Defense Minister Gen. Ahmad Vahidi in Tehran on Monday.

Vahidi said Iranian-Azerbaijani relations are satisfactory and any problem arising between the two countries could be resolved through negotiations.

``Azerbaijan`s buying arms from Israel is not something new, and this agreement was concluded a while ago,`` Vahidi said. ``This has no bearing on Iran-Azerbaijan relations.``

``Iran is ready to provide all kinds of military assistance to Azerbaijan, as well as conduct joint exercises,`` he said.

Tensions between Baku and Tehran escalated after Israel last month signed a $1.6 billion deal to sell drones, anti-aircraft and missile defense systems to Azerbaijan, bringing Israeli technology to the border of archenemy Iran. The arms will be reportedly supplied to Azerbaijan by the state-run Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Iran`s foreign ministry summoned the Azerbaijani ambassador in late February and sought an explanation. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi warned that any potential use of Azerbaijan`s territory against neighboring Iran would be unacceptable.

On Monday, Abiyev indirectly defended the deal. ``Azerbaijan must improve its army, and for this purpose it is obliged to purchase weapons and equipment,`` he said.

Minister Abiyev, who has paid a two-day official visit to Iran, on Monday met with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ahmadinejad said Iran is confident that Azerbaijan would not allow attacking forces to pass through its territory, according to the official IRNA news agency.

``We are sure that no problem will take place against Iran from (the land of) our friend and brother, Azerbaijan.``

Ahmadinejad said, ``Joint enemies of the two countries seek to stop improvement of relations between Tehran and Baku.`` He did not elaborate.

Israel has hinted at an attack on Iran`s nuclear facilities, charging Iran is trying to make nuclear weapons. Western governments have repeatedly expressed similar fears.

Iran denies it has nuclear weapons aims and has expressed concern over alleged Israeli intelligence activity in Azerbaijan.

Military support
During the meeting with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vahidi announced Iran`s readiness to provide the Azerbaijani army with Iranian military products.

``We are ready to offer any support that can lead to self-sufficiency of the army of Azerbaijan,`` Vahidi said.

Vahidi pointed to vast potential for expanding Iran-Azerbaijan relations, saying that ``with the will of the two leaders, enemies will not be able to tarnish relations between the two countries``.

The minister said Tehran ``deems Azerbaijan`s security as Iran`s security`` and sees ``a strong Azerbaijan as a strong Iran`` and the other way around, according to the Iranian defense ministry`s website.

Abiyev agreed that some forces are trying to sow discord between Azerbaijan and Iran, saying such attempts should be countered.