US Backs Azerbaijan in Dispute with Iran

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–The United States backed Azerbaijan in its boundary dispute with Iran on Tuesday–saying that Iranian aircraft had provocatively violated the air space of its northwestern neighbor.

Commenting on a dispute that erupted in late July–the State Department said it had confirmed reports of Iranian violations.

"Such actions are provocative. Further–they’re counterproductive to efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of Caspian boundary disputes," spokesman Philip Reeker said.

"As we’ve repeatedly stated–the United States supports negotiation among the littoral states of the Caspian Sea to settle the question of boundaries," he added.

An Iranian gunship and a military aircraft last month ordered two Azeri research vessels hired by British oil company BP to retreat from an oil field claimed by both Iran and Azerbaijan.

The five states with Caspian coastline are at loggerheads on how to divide up the sea’s oil-rich territory. But the disputes have not deterred Western oil companies keen to develop the Caspian’s vast energy resources.

Reeker–speaking at a daily briefing–said the United States favored the economic development of energy resources in the Caspian basin according to free-market principles–using investment by international firms.

"So we firmly support Azerbaijan and all other countries which choose negotiation–not confrontation–as a path to those goals," the spokesman added.

Iran accused the United States on Wednesday of fanning tension in the Caspian region after Washington backed Azerbaijan in its territorial dispute with the Islamic republic.

Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi rejected Reeker’s remarks as an act of "interference."

"Such remarks are unrealistic and provocative," Asefi was quoted as saying by the official Iranian news agency IRNA. "Interference in Caspian affairs by extra-regional countries will not only fail to help resolve problems–but will add to complications."


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