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2 Iran drivers released by Azerbaijan as tensions de-escalate

Azerbaijani military forces in Zangilan, Azerbaijan on 8 November 2020 [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency]
Azerbaijani military forces in Zangilan, Azerbaijan on 8 November 2020 [Arif Hüdaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency]

Two Iranian truck drivers detained by Azerbaijani authorities last month have been released following hectic diplomatic efforts between the two sides, officials said yesterday.

Jafar Barzegar and Shahroud Norouzi were handed over to the Iranian Embassy in Baku early today based on an unspecified agreement and will be sent back to Iran after legal formalities.

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh also confirmed their release.

The two were accused of illegally entering Azerbaijan when they were apprehended at a checkpoint on the Goris-Kapan Highway in late September amid tensions between the two neighbouring countries.

Iranian authorities rejected the charges and demanded their immediate release.

A series of meetings were held between the two sides in recent weeks, led by Iran's envoy to Baku, Abbas Mousavi, to secure the release of drivers and ensure de-escalation of tensions.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also raised the issue in a telephone conversation with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov last week.

READ: Azerbaijan-Israel relations and Iran's national security concerns

Relations between the two countries have rapidly deteriorated in recent months, with Tehran pointing to the presence of Israeli troops on its border with Azerbaijan, and Baku accusing Iran of illegally sending trucks to the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The tensions were sparked by comments from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in which he accused Iran of violating Azerbaijan's sovereignty by hiding the identity of trucks heading to Armenia.

Iran, however, rejected the accusations and alleged that "third parties," an indirect reference to Israel, were disrupting relations between the two countries.

Iran recently held extensive military drills on its border with Azerbaijan, which came after a joint military exercise by Turkey, Azerbaijan and Pakistan.

To prevent further escalation, Iran's Amir-Abdollahian emphasised in his conversation with Bayramov last week that the two sides should "not allow enemies to disrupt" their mutual relations.

Iran, which shares a 132 kilometre border with Azerbaijan, has traditionally maintained a neutral stance on the long-running dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Karabakh.

However, following last year's flare-up in the region, Iran recognised Azerbaijan's military superiority over Armenia and the Iranian people also rallied behind Baku.

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