By Saeed Azimi

Ambassador: Iran, Azerbaijan are stuck together like “flesh to nails”

August 2, 2022 - 17:15
“Iran is ready to build an entire city for Azerbaijan”

TEHRAN— In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, Iran’s ambassador to the Republic of Azerbaijan expresses Iran’s readiness to reconstruct an entire city for the Republic of Azerbaijan in the liberated areas.

Seyyed Abbas Mousavi also cautioned the Israeli regime’s ambassador to mind his own business and not provoke Iranians’ sentiments.

The diplomat was referring to a recent tweet of George Deek, the Israeli regime’s envoy to Baku, who posted a picture of himself holding a book titled “Mysterious Tales of Tabriz,” captioning it, “I’m learning so much about Azerbaijani history and culture in Tabriz in this great book I was recently presented. What are you guys reading these days?”

Below is the full text of the interview:

In your opinion, what is the purpose of the messages issued by the Israeli ambassador in the Republic of Azerbaijan? Are they looking for diplomatic tension?

The Zionist regime basically enters everywhere with sinister and particular intentions. This is not a slogan uttered by us. We saw and felt this issue. The presence of the Zionist regime in the Caucasus region or Central Asia in general after the collapse of the Soviet Union was with the intention of gaining legitimacy.

Some countries (of Central Asia) do not have an embassy in Tel Aviv, but they (the Israeli regime) established an embassy there and considered it as preparing the grounds for gaining legitimacy. Of course, they also have other goals, such as getting (geographically) closer to the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is closely monitored and supervised by Islamic Republic. It is natural that they do not like good relations between two neighboring countries, especially two Muslim, especially Shia, countries.

It was not the first time that he (the ambassador of the Israeli regime) did such a thing. As I have described, he is a naive and simple-minded boy and he thinks he has done a psychological operation, as well as something propagandistic.

The Zionist regime has an embassy in the Republic of Azerbaijan for any reason. If they were wise, they would limit themselves within the framework of bilateral relations. For them to think that from an Islamic and Shia country they can make provocative moves against the Islamic Republic and make conspiracies, this is one of the great miscalculations of the Zionist regime that they are making.

“The Republic of Azerbaijan is our friend, brother, neighbor, Muslim and Shia country.”

Whenever we tried to warm the relations between two neighboring countries of Iran and Azerbaijan, agents of third countries started interfering. I cannot name some countries due to diplomatic reasons, but I can publicly name the Zionist regime, which is one of the biggest opponents of warm and friendly relations between the two friendly, brotherly, Muslim and Shia countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan.

They (the Zionist regime) have bigger plans. They always want to preserve a sort of tension in the relations between the two countries, while they want to slowly implement the goals in their minds. These and some other Zionist agents who come to the Republic of Azerbaijan as thinkers or academics, say things and pursue goals that we are sure are done with a sinister purpose and intention.

This action that he (George Deek) has done has encroached on the Islamic Republic and especially on our territorial integrity, which of course are not counted and certainly do not accomplish anything, but in any case, he has taken the book that has the name of the dear Tabriz of Iran in it and for us, Tabriz is an important city that has been influential throughout history.

If an unclean hand and mouth wants to mention the name of Tabriz or even wants to promote it, we understand that the true purpose was not reading the book or promoting it.

He wanted to send a message to some of his agents, and we felt we should give him a serious warning. I usually did this and answered the comments and videos that he recorded last year and two years ago in which he said strange things while pointing towards Iran. He addressed the public opinion in Azerbaijan towards opposing the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were general propaganda (against the Islamic Republic) that received an appropriate response, but this time this boy tried to touch on a sensitive issue with his crude imagination and it was necessary for us to have such a reaction. It will be the same from now on. If he wants to continue doing these childish things, he will definitely face an appropriate response. Of course, I am sure that the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan is not looking for these tensions. They do not want their territory to be a place for conflict between Iran and the Zionist regime. Therefore, I feel that the government of Azerbaijan should put them in a working framework.

According to media reports, the Israelis are looking to establish a smart village in Zangilan, Azerbaijan, near the Iranian border. Considering the situation and tensions between the two sides, it can be assumed that this village will serve as a place for eavesdropping or some sort of hostile activity against Iran. What do you think of this? Has there been a discussion with the government of Azerbaijan to clarify this matter?

One of the functions of the relations between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Zionist regime is the use of up-to-date technologies, which you gave as an example. After the liberation of the occupied territories of Karabakh, different companies and countries have been invited to invest there or participate in the reconstruction process. The Islamic Republic of Iran was the first country to step forward. And in a meeting that I had with Azerbaijani officials in the middle of the war, when the fate of the war was not known, I said that the Islamic Republic of Iran supports the liberation of the occupied lands, and after the war is over, Iran will definitely be the first friendly country to come and reconstruct these areas.

At first, it was strange for them how the Iranian ambassador in the middle of the ongoing war raised the issue of liberation and reconstruction, and I raised this issue there for the first time.

After the war, this happened with the stabilization of the situation and they invited many countries.

This smart village project is not entirely done by this regime (Israel). Azerbaijanis are trying to rebuild areas in a modern way and use new and renewable energies. For example, the regime is building a modern cattle farm in those areas, and its dairy products will be produced through a joint venture with Italy. The surface of the issue is an investment and economic work. However, we are always suspicious of the intentions of the Zionist regime, despite the fact that the government of Azerbaijan has promised and emphasized many times that it will not allow the provocative moves of any country, especially the Zionist regime, against Iran. We also accept the words and promises of our Azerbaijani brothers and their word is valid and they will definitely not allow such a thing. But we are suspicious of the intentions of the Zionist regime and we know that there is no such thing as free lunch.

We suspect they must have special intelligence, security and maybe an intention to do an act of sabotage behind what they are doing, which is under our monitoring. We made the necessary complaints and gave the necessary warnings to the Azeris, and the officials of the Republic of Azerbaijan at different levels have assured us that nothing against the national interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran will happen from the territory of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Ali Shamkhani recently made a trip to Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan within a week and had a public and private meeting in Baku with the President of Azerbaijan. Is there a new plan for Karabakh?

We have always been sensitive towards the Caucasus region since remote past, as we have interests in that region, and it is natural that the events that happen in the Caucasus region affect us, and again, it is natural that we are fully observing and monitoring the developments that occur in that region.

At the beginning of the breakdown of relations between the two neighbors, Azerbaijan and Armenia, there was war and conflict, and the Islamic Republic of Iran was one of the most active mediators.

It is natural for the Islamic Republic of Iran to be concerned about some geopolitical developments. We observe the new facts in the Caucasus and declare a position according to our collective interests.

That is why we follow the developments of the region with sensitivity. In the first war, we tried to mediate so that the right would reach the rightful, and in the second Karabakh war, the Islamic Republic of Iran announced a peace initiative and proposed a format that is similar to the Astana format designed to solve the Syrian crisis.

Our 3+3 peace plan was such that we said that all the countries of the region should be involved in it and help to solve the Karabakh crisis with the focus on ending the occupation and encroachments on the territorial integrity of the countries and the rights of the minorities, which was somehow accepted by both the Russians, the Azeris, Armenians, and Turks. Georgians were a little hesitant and had a couple of reservations, and until this plan was formed, the work was done and the occupied areas were almost freed, and the Russians, as the main actor in that matter, took the initiative.

However, the same Iranian plan became the basis for a new political platform in the Caucasus region, which is referred to as the 3+3 platform or the six-sided platform. The three largest countries in the region, namely Iran, Russia and Turkey, in addition to the three countries of the Caucasus, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia are cooperating in this format. The first meeting at the level of deputy foreign ministers was held in Moscow, and we hope that the second meeting will be held in Iran.

Our Georgian friends still have reservations due to some issues and did not participate in the first meeting. We are trying to encourage them to participate in the second meeting, as staying away from the developments in the Caucasus is not in the interest of the countries of the Caucasus region and they should be more willing to participate in the future of the region.

“Our relationship with the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of kinship and neighborliness.”

The good thing about this plan is that no extra-regional country interferes in it. I am aware that Westerners, Americans and Europeans are not satisfied with this plan because it does not let them interfere in these affairs and says that the problem of the region can be solved by the people of this region.

One of the goals of Mr. Shamkhani's trip was to revive and strengthen this 3+3 format in some way so that we can solve the problems of the region between ourselves and between the countries of the region. As a big country in the region, we can help to solve some problems and disputes.

Iran supports the ongoing peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We consider any tension to the detriment of the entire region and we do not want tension to exist consistently. We have all suffered many economic losses for years. If these two neighboring countries achieve peace, it will benefit these countries and the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran in different ways.

There are a series of misunderstandings between Iran and Azerbaijan, and during Admiral Shamkhani's visit to Baku, a series of bilateral issues were raised both in the public meeting that we had with the president of Azerbaijan and the private meeting that he himself had with the Azeri president. Mr. Shamkhani tried to express the most important concerns that he has in various issues, and I think that from now on, especially after the meetings that our presidents had in Ashgabat, we are witnessing warm relations between the two countries.

The process of reconstruction of the Karabakh region has started and there have been talks about the presence of Iranian companies there. Can you describe the general activity of Iranian companies in the reconstruction process?

As I said, the issue of liberation and reconstruction of Karabakh was and still is of great importance to Iran. The Republic of Azerbaijan is our friend, brother, neighbor, Muslim and Shia country. It is difficult for us that there are one million displaced people in different regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan who are our friends and relatives. Most of these displaced people are from the areas near the border of Iran and the cities that were occupied at that time (the First Karabakh War), who went to temporary settlement camps at that time. This temporary settlement lasted thirty years. Maybe some of those displaced people were forty years old then and are now seventy years old, or a child who was one-year-old then and now is thirty-one-year-old. These events are painful. Wherever there is war and displacement, it is painful. Iran grieves for the nations of the region, especially the countries with which we share the same blood and roots.

We raised the issue of reconstruction and announced our readiness. Large Iranian companies, especially those with high technical and engineering capabilities, announced their readiness to participate in this reconstruction. A part of our presence in the process of reconstruction is voluntary; that is, the Islamic Republic of Iran is not so much looking for economic benefit, although naturally economic benefit comes following this issue. In any case, the affiliations and deep-rooted historical and religious commonalities play a major role in this regard.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution's opinion regarding Karabakh and considering it “the land of Islam” and the land of an Islamic country creates a responsibility for us and everyone to enter there for both liberation and reconstruction. Fortunately, the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan responded positively to our announcement of readiness. But there are two or three obstacles to this. I personally saw one of these obstacles after I and some ministers visited some areas and we realized that those areas have been completely destroyed. The Armenians who occupied there did not do the slightest construction, because they knew that their presence was temporary. Therefore, they neither invested in those areas nor renovated them and tried to keep them as they are. If something is to be done in these areas, a city must be built -not rebuilt- completely.

For example, I visited the Agdam region. This area is known as the Hiroshima of the Caucasus. This area is completely destroyed and only one mosque is remained, which is almost half-destroyed. We even announced our readiness to build one or two cities by powerful Iranian companies and presented the plans. Another major obstacle is that their master plans for each liberated city are not yet ready.

Another serious obstacle in the reconstruction process is the issue of demining the liberated areas.

The Azeris are gradually demining these areas. The Islamic Republic and the Ministry of Defense, our senior military and political officials announced their readiness to help our Azeri friends in this regard, based on the experiences we have had during the eight-year imposed war.

Demining precedes the reconstruction of areas. Currently, two large projects are being done by Iranian companies, an educational center, and a medical center. These projects are being carried out through intermediaries by Iranian companies. Also, a depot of Iranian construction materials and equipment is supposed to be created for all the areas that are being reconstructed, as the Azeris will be using Iranian materials. This problem is due to the proximity of Iran-Azerbaijan border, the cheapness and high quality of Iranian materials and equipment, and the ease of transportation.

Some Iranian companies are cooperating in road construction and infrastructure projects in these areas as well. If master plans are prepared, we are ready to completely rebuild even one or two cities located in the liberated areas and hand them over to the Muslim people of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

What is your current assessment of relations between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Republic of Azerbaijan? And what will be the prospects of the relations?

You asked a very important question. As I said, our relationship with the Republic of Azerbaijan is one of kinship and neighborliness. Many people tried to influence this relationship and prevent it from being warmed. It is natural that if two Muslim countries are close to each other, many people will be unhappy and upset. We do not want to please anyone.

The neighborhood policy that exists in this government, especially with the Islamic countries, is being pursued at the highest level with the Republic of Azerbaijan, and the number of meetings that the officials of the two countries have had with each other proves this issue. In the last two months, about 12 high-ranking delegations have been exchanged between the two countries, which is a record. From the Azeri side, the ministers of defense, foreign affairs, and culture, and the deputy prime minister, etc., came to Tehran several times, and from the Iranian side, most of our ministers came to Baku.

Respective parliamentarians came to the Republic of Azerbaijan. Mr. Shamkhani also came recently. We have significant progress in relations in all cultural, military, security, and economic fields.

“The most important plan is to connect the mainland of Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan through Iranian land.”

We have big joint projects. We are building a new and big bridge in Astara, and if this bridge is inaugurated by the end of this year, the volume of transit between Iran and Azerbaijan, which is about 200 trucks per day from the Astara region, can reach 800 or even 1000. We are pursuing a joint dam construction project. At the time when the area around Khoda Afarin was under occupation, in order to give a positive signal to the Republic of Azerbaijan, we signed an agreement with this country and practically confirmed that these areas belong to the Republic of Azerbaijan, which is a very important point. The officials of the Republic of Azerbaijan also acknowledge that the Islamic Republic of Iran signed a dam construction contract with the owner of the lands when they were temporarily under occupation. Now the construction of this dam is almost finished. All the works are ready and will probably be fully operational within the next year. The parties have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in this project. The two dams of Qiz Qalasi and Khoda Afarin are joint projects that we have in the region. We have joint projects in the Jolfa and Nakhchivan regions. We also have a project in Parsabad. We have the project of connecting the electricity of the two countries and synchronizing the electricity of the two countries and then synchronizing the electricity of Iran, Russia, and Azerbaijan.

The gas swap contract that was recently signed and is ongoing is another joint project between us and the Azeris. We take 20% of this gas as a transit right from Iran, and recently it was decided that this volume will be doubled. Recently, after Mr. Oji's (Iran’s Oil Minister) trip to Baku, a contract was signed and it was decided to double this volume. If this volume doubles, naturally our transit rights will also be doubled and this is in our interest.

There are other programs on the agenda, the most important of which is the Iranian corridor to connect the mainland of Azerbaijan to Nakhchivan through Iranian land. This corridor and access has existed for the past 30 years, but now we have decided to expand this corridor, in addition to the truck route, a railway line will also be built, and energy transmission lines will also pass through Iran and reach Nakhchivan.

The prospect of relations is very positive if third parties leave and we be vigilant and do not allow third-parties to interfere in our bilateral relations. We are naturally united and friends, and we are related to each other.

I once told one of the Azerbaijani officials that we are stuck together like flesh to nails. Sometimes things accumulate under the nail that must be cleaned so that it does not get dirty. We are inseparable. Among the filth that accumulates under the nails is the Zionist regime. Azeris know our sensitivities and we have been given the necessary assurances many times by the authorities of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The political will of both sides at the highest levels is for the relations between the two countries to take a major leap, and hopefully, this will happen in the near future.

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