Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev on Friday accused Iran and Armenia of using Azerbaijani territory for drug trafficking, prompting swift rebuttals from both neighbors.
“After restoring its 130-kilometer border with Iran, which was under Armenian control for 30 years, Azerbaijan stopped the illegal trafficking of narcotics from Iran to Armenia and on to Europe through Azerbaijan’s Jebrail district,” Aliyev said during a virtual summit of former Soviet republics.
“Armenia and Iran conspired to use Azerbaijan’s occupied territories to traffic drugs to Europe,” he charged without producing any proof of his allegations.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan denied the allegations when he addressed the summit from Yerevan.
“I want to point out that we have been very closely cooperating with Iran’s law-enforcement bodies and very productively fighting against drug trafficking,” said Pashinyan.
Iran rejected Aliyev’s “astonishing” claims in stronger terms. The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said that they serve Israel’s geopolitical interests and will further damage Azerbaijani-Iranian relations.
In written comments released by the ministry, Khatibzadeh said that Baku is sticking to “baseless statements” despite privately sending “positive messages” to Tehran. The Islamic Republic will respond to that accordingly, he said.
Azerbaijani-Iranian relations deteriorated significantly after Azerbaijani authorities imposed on September 12 heavy duties on Iranian trucks transporting goods to Armenia. Iran held large-scale military exercises along its border with Azerbaijan earlier this month.
Senior Iranian officials have since repeatedly accused Baku of harboring Sunni Muslim militants and Israeli security personnel near that frontier. Aliyev again rejected the Iranian accusations in a newspaper interview published on Wednesday.
The Iranian and Azerbaijani foreign ministers spoke by phone on Tuesday in a bid to defuse the tensions. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reportedly told his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov that Tehran expects a solution to “the problem of cargo transit.”
Armenian and Iranian leaders have also discussed the problem in recent weeks. Yerevan has pledged to complete before the end of this year the reconstruction of an alternative Armenian road that will allow Iranian trucks to bypass Azerbaijani-controlled territory.