Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has labeled as baseless earlier reports claiming his country gained access to Azerbaijani airfields for possible strikes on nuclear targets in neighboring Iran.
Such reports are in the realm of science fiction and are a far cry from reality. They are circulated by people with fertile imagination, Lieberman told journalists on a visit to Baku on Monday.
Azerbaijan also denied an article on Israel`s alleged access to Azerbaijani airfields published in the Foreign Policy magazine. The report quoted an unnamed US official as saying that the Israelis have bought an airfield, and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.
Israel and its ally the United States say they fear the Iranian nuclear program could be directed toward making a nuclear weapon that could threaten Israel`s existence. Iran denies any military component to its nuclear program.
Ties between Azerbaijan and the Islamic republic were also strained recently over reports that Israel had reached a $1.6 billion deal to supply weapons to Azerbaijan.
Commenting on the reports, Lieberman labeled them purposeful spreading of information mainly aimed at discrediting relations between the two countries.
I think that some of the journalists who were engaged in the interpretation of all these issues [arms sales] have very fertile imagination, and they could participate in contests for the best science fiction novel, he said. The others have clearly seen too many James Bond movies and are trying to reflect this in the field of journalism.
In March, Azerbaijani officials announced the arrest of 22 people on suspicion of spying for Iran. The 22, according to the Azerbaijani national security ministry, were said to have received orders from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to commit terrorist acts against the US, Israeli and other Western states` embassies and the embassies` employees.
Iran has accused Azerbaijan of helping Israel assassinate nuclear scientists inside the Islamic Republic.
Sanctions against Iran
Azerbaijan`s Foreign Ministry says the Israeli minister`s visit to Baku is focused only on bilateral relations and is not directed against Iran or any other country.
In an interview with the Baku-based Trend news agency on Monday, Lieberman called for toughening sanctions against Iran so that the country would abandon its nuclear ambitions, adding that it is our official position.
Lieberman said Israel was closely following the situation in Iran and the statements made by Tehran.
We believe that the international community should be given the opportunity to exhaust the whole negotiation process within the `Iran and 5+1` framework, he said. The sanctions have been effective enough, and from our point of view, these sanctions should be expanded in order to force Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
$4bn trade turnover
The Israeli minister met with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov on Monday.
In a meeting with President Aliyev, Lieberman said he has witnessed great changes in Baku since his last visit, according to official reports.
The president stressed that rebuilding work is being carried out rapidly in Azerbaijan.
The parties exchanged views on the development of Azerbaijani-Israeli cooperation in various fields.
During the meeting with Minister Mammadyarov, it was underscored that in a number of areas relations between the two countries are successfully developing, Azerbaijan`s Foreign Ministry said.
The sides also cited the need to expand the legal framework between the two countries.
The Israeli minister welcomed the election of Azerbaijan to the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member and stressed the importance of deepening cooperation within international organizations.
The Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict over Nagorno Karabakh was on the agenda of the meeting as well.
In his interview with Trend, Lieberman said Israel-Azerbaijan relations are developing very dynamically.
The trade turnover between Israel and Azerbaijan has reached $4 billion, the highest figure among all the CIS countries, including Russia, Lieberman said.
He noted that the two countries have very stable and trust-based political relations.
I think our relationship is very intense. I believe that Azerbaijan has been recognized on the world arena in the political aspect. The fact that Azerbaijan is a member of the UN Security Council, of course, puts it in an entirely different status, the minister said.
Lieberman said that during his talks in Baku, the sides held political consultations on developments in the Security Council, the regular session of the UN General Assembly to be held this September, as well as the situation in the region, in particular, the Iranian nuclear program. Discussions also focused on cooperation in agriculture, medicine, water economy, education, introduction of a visa-free regime for diplomats, as well as a number of agreements offered by Israel.
The Israeli minister said Baku and Tel-Aviv are developing a special economic agreement that would force the effect of all previously signed documents.
Previously, the parties signed agreements on cooperation between their tax authorities and customs bodies.
On Monday, the Israeli foreign minister attended the opening of a center of Israeli culture at the Azerbaijan University of Languages in Baku.