Friday, October 07, 2005

Azerbaijan Says Military Cooperation with US Does not Target Neighbors

Former Soviet republic Azerbaijan sought Friday to reassure Iran and other fellow Caspian Sea states that military assistance it was receiving from the United States was not a threat to its neighbors.

"The cooperation of Azerbaijan in any sphere with any other countries is not directed against its neighbors and does not infringe upon their interests," Deputy Foreign Minister Khalaf Khalafov said in response to a question on whether nearby Iran should be concerned about the US aid.

Khalafov spoke to journalists after a meeting of officials from the states bordering the strategic Caspian -- Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan -- on the sea's legal status, the 18th meeting of its kind, which again produced few apparent results.

The United States has undertaken the construction of a radar installation near Iran's northern border and has encouraged both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to beef up their sea defenses in order to counter "transnational threats" in the region.

Washington has spent some 30 million dollars on upgrading Azerbaijan's coastguard with a radar system, personnel training and repair of ships and recently said it wanted to spend 135 million dollars to improve Azerbaijan's and Kazakhstan's sea forces. READ MORE

Iran's delegation too opted to downplay perceptions that it had concerns over Washington's growing presence in the strategic, oil-rich region.

"Iran has no problem with countries that are cooperating to fight terrorism and drug trafficking. These are issues which all five Caspian nations are interested in resolving," said Mohsen Baharvend, legal department head in Iran's foreign ministry.