Top Azeri Diplomat Praises Ties With Israel on First-Ever Visit

Azeri Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov said he was “pleased” to see his mostly Shiite Muslim nation on Iran’s northern border cementing ties with Israel as he completed a three-day visit to the Jewish state.

Mammadyarov, Azerbaijan’s first foreign minister to visit Israel, met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and other Israeli officials during his April 21-23 trip, saying the visit will help expand ties further, his office said today by e-mail.

The visit marks a turning point in Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel after the former Soviet republic has in the past refrained from high-level visits under Iranian pressure. Azerbaijan, which shares a 756-kilometer (470-mile) border with the Islamic republic, has faced criticism from its neighbor for forging closer ties with Israel and Western nations and allowing the entry of companies like BP Plc, Statoil ASA and Exxon Mobil Corp. in energy projects on the Caspian Sea.

Israel buys oil from Azerbaijan, the third-largest crude producer in the former Soviet Union, and sells advanced weapons including drones and missile systems to the Caspian Sea nation locked in a territorial dispute with neighboring Armenia.

Mammadyarov and Israeli leaders exchanged views “on the developments in the Middle East region” and talked about issues of mutual interest, the Azeri Foreign Ministry said, without elaborating.

Peres described Mammadyarov’s visit as a “historic” one, according to the Jerusalem Post. He said Azerbaijan takes a clear stand against war and accused Iran of funding terrorism and developing nuclear weapons.

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