BAKU, Azerbaijan, April 24 (UPI) -- Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Muhammad Najjar has visited neighboring Azerbaijan, a close U.S. ally.
Najjar told reporters, "My visit to Azerbaijan aims at expanding the cooperation on the basis of the already signed treaties. Tehran can assist Azerbaijan in developing military-industrial establishment. We can exchange experience in this field. I'll raise this issue in the talks with Azerbaijani Minister of Defense."
Harvard University Caspian Studies Program director Brenda Shaffer said the visit was intended to send a signal to the Bush administration that has increasingly been criticizing Iran's civilian nuclear energy program as a covert attempt to develop nuclear weapons.
The Today.az news agency on Saturday quoted Shaffer as saying, "The Iranians are interested in showing to the world that they have good relations with neighbors because in the event of [U.S.] sanctions or military hostilities, the reaction of Iran's neighbors will have to be reckoned with. This, however, does not mean that the Iranian minister has been putting any pressure on Azerbaijan."
Discussing the possibility that Azerbaijan may facilitate a U.S.-Iranian diplomatic dialogue, Shaffer said, "The point is that Iran already has such relations with Russia and Europe and there is no need for yet another mediator."
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev is scheduled to make a three-day to the United States beginning Wednesday. Aliyev's visit is a major coup for Azerbaijani diplomacy, as it emphasizes the nation's geo-strategic importance in Washington, since it shares a common border with Iran.
Aliyev's talks will undoubtedly include high-level discussions on Iran, especially since the last day of Aliyev's visit coincides with the International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohammad ElBaradei presenting his report on Iran's nuclear activities to the United Nations Security Council.