Iran Protests Azerbaijani 'Terrorist' Allegation

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Iran on Saturday formally protested against an accusation by Azerbaijan that it ordered "terrorist acts" in the neighboring republic against Western and Israeli targets.

Azerbaijan's ambassador to Tehran, Javanshir Akhundov, was summoned to the foreign ministry to hear an official denial that Iran was involved in plots Baku claimed were masterminded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the state news agency IRNA reported, quoting a ministry statement.

Baku made the charge on Wednesday.

Its national security ministry said that 22 Azerbaijani citizens had been arrested on suspicion of cooperating with the Revolutionary Guards "to commit terrorist acts against the U.S., Israeli and other Western states' embassies and the embassies' employees."

The Azerbaijani ministry said a Revolutionary Guards officer named Akbar Pakravesh gave the Azerbaijani recruits equipment and money and met them in Damascus and Moscow to avoid suspicion.

IRNA said the Azerbaijani ambassador was "reminded" of efforts by Israel to discredit Iran through staged events.

Iranian officials, it said, "are not pleased and are extremely regretful that the brotherly and friendly government of the Azerbaijani republic has entered into such a game."

Tensions between Tehran and mainly Muslim but officially secular Azerbaijan have risen in recent months, with a series of arrests in Baku of attack plot suspects with alleged links to Tehran.

Iran has also been angered by Azerbaijan's ties to Israel and its reported purchase of hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons from the Jewish state.

Tehran last month accused Azerbaijan of working with Israel's spy services and helping assassins who murdered Iranian nuclear scientists in recent years -- a claim rejected by Baku as "slander."

Last week, the neighbors appeared to be taking steps to improve relations, making public declarations of friendship during a visit to Tehran by Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiyev.

The uneasy relations between the neighbors 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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