ANKARA (Hürriyet Daily News)—Turkey is bringing together the foreign ministers of Iran and Azerbaijan on Saturday to try and thaw the rivals’ icy relations in a new attempt at regional mediation.
“If this [Saturday] meeting can contribute to bilateral ties and open the way for the two countries to make peace and engage in dialogue, we would be pleased,” one Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran will hold trilateral talks on Saturday in Urmia, a city in northwestern Iran and the capital of the West Azerbaijan Province. Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomats told the Daily News that the developments in the Caucasus region would be discussed at the weekend meeting.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has so far undertaken a number of peace initiatives, will seek ways to thaw the ice in the Iranian-Azerbaijani relationship, something that was also revealed in the latest WikiLeaks cable, it has been learned.
One of the diplomatic cables features a discussion between Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev and United States Undersecretary of State William Burns, in which Aliyev complained to the latter that Iran was continuing to undermine Azerbaijan.
The Turkish initiative comes on the heels of other similar efforts in the past to bring together the disputed parties and promote peace in the region. Davutoğlu, the architect of Turkey’s current foreign policy, most recently sought to soothe the Bahrain crisis following fears of a possible sectarian clash.
The trilateral talks involving the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran first took place in Istanbul on the margins of the Economic Cooperation Organization meeting in December 2010. Saturday’s meeting in Iran will be followed by a third meeting set to take place in Azerbaijan but its schedule has not yet been set, an Azerbaijani embassy spokesman said.
Economic cooperation projects will dominate the agenda of the Saturday meeting, the spokesman added. One of them is to establish a three-way customs gate involving the three countries as well as the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan, he said.
In any Iranian-Azerbaijani rapprochement, however, there is only a limited role for Turkey, according to experts.
“There is a limit to what Turkey can do in this case because Iran has hesitations about Turkey and considers it as a party closer to the Azerbaijanis,” Turgut Demirtepe of the Ankara-based think USAK said.
Iran has a large Azeri population in its northwestern provinces. The Azeris are followers of Shiite Islam and make up the majority of the population in the Iranian region of Azerbaijan.
Iran and Azerbaijan consider each other a regional threat, Demirtepe said.
“First, Iran has fears that its Azeri minority could be provoked by Azerbaijan and Westerners. And second, Iran sees Azerbaijan as one of the legs of the containment policy employed by Israel and the United States,” he said.
“Azerbaijan, on the other side, considers rising social and political demands from the Aliyev leadership as a threat and believes the growth of the opposition with Islamist tendencies is being provoked by Tehran,” he said.
Further diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks also revealed that Aliyev expressed his support for U.S. sanctions against Iran. In a meeting with U.S. officials in Baku in February 2010, Aliyev also said he criticized European oil and gas companies for sabotaging the international sanctions regime.