President Khatami is due in Baku on Thursday for a two-day visit. The two countries have said officially that the visit will produce a number of economic and cultural cooperation agreements, but the neighbors’ disputes on how to divide Caspian Sea resources and over the presence of US military in Azerbaijan will loon on the agenda of talks. August 5, 2004 Islamic Republic President Mohammad Khatami is expected in Azerbaijan on Thursday for his first visit to Baku since he came to office in 1996 – a sign of the frigid relations between the two neighbors, which came near a full-blown military confrontation in July 2001 when Iranian coastal patrols shot at Azeri ships hired by British Petroleum for oil exploration in a disputed area of the Caspian Sea.
Caspian territorial rights and the US presence in Azerbaijan will loom on the agenda of talks during Khatami’s two-day visit, according to analysts quoted by Agence France Presse in a dispatch from Baku. In addition to their long common border, common religion – Shiite brand of Islam -- and extensive trade relations, nearly a quarter of Iran’s 60 million population are ethnic Azeris.
Khatami and pro-western Azerbaijan head of state Ilham Aliyev are expected to sign a number of agreements on trade and cultural cooperation, officials said, adding that security issues will also be discussed.
The talks are expected to be crowned by the signing of several agreements, including a political statement by the two presidents and agreements on cooperation in transport, taxation, border trade and religion, according to Russian news agency Interfax. Khatami also plans to visit Azerbaijan's second largest city of Gyanju.
In addition to talks with Aliyev, Khatami is due to meet with Azerbaijani parliament speaker Murtuz Aleskerov, Iranian businessmen working in Azerbaijan and to address members of parliament.
“Iran attaches great importance to a powerful Azerbaijan which safeguards national and regional interests in this sensitive and strategic region,” foreign minister Kamal Kharrazi said. “Tehran considers our common borders as borders of friendship and peace,” he added, according to official news agency IRNA.
In addition to a key oil-rich Caspian Sea area near the two countries’ common border, Iran and Azerbaijan hold opposing positions in the on-going negotiations between Caspian littoral states over how to divide Caspian resources. Azerbaijan has sided with Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, which favor dividing the Sea along shorelines, a formula which will net Iran nearly 13 percent of the Caspian Sea.
Iran, which has valid treaties with Soviet Union honoring its 50 percent share of the Caspian, has indicated that it would go along with a cooperative ownership of the Caspian, with at least 20 percent of resources going to Iran.