Azerbaijan Rejects Iran's Charges of Collusion with Israel

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Azerbaijan on Monday rejected as "slander" Iranian claims that Baku has been collaborating with Israel's spy services and helping assassins who have killed Iranian nuclear scientists.

The Azerbaijani foreign ministry condemned a protest note given to its ambassador in Tehran which complained about the alleged collaboration. The note demanded that Baku prevent Mossad from carrying out anti-Iranian "activities" on its soil.

"This Iranian note is slander," foreign ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev told Agence France Presse.

He described the Iranian complaint as a reaction to a formal protest last month from Baku to Tehran after two men with alleged links to Iranian intelligence were arrested on suspicion of plotting to kill prominent Israelis in neighboring Azerbaijan.

"It is a response note to an Azerbaijani note which was about Iranian security services' attempted terrorist attack against two Israeli citizens in Baku," he said.

The Iranian foreign ministry on Sunday accused mainly Muslim neighbor Azerbaijan of giving logistical assistance to alleged assassins.

"Some of the terrorists linked to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists have traveled to Azerbaijan ... (where they are) facilitated to travel to Tel Aviv," the official IRNA news agency website said, quoting the ministry.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan has a secular government which maintains a friendly relationship with Israel based on the export of oil and the import of weapons and military technology.

But its relationship with Iran has deteriorated in recent months amid the arrests of the alleged plotters in January and accusations that Tehran has been sponsoring Islamic radicals in Azerbaijan.

Relations between the ex-Soviet state and the Islamic republic are complicated by the presence of a huge ethnic Azeri minority in Iran, which far outnumbers Azerbaijan's own population of 9.2 million.

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