Azerbaijan and Iran said on Saturday their top diplomats spoke over the phone, two days after Baku expelled four Iranian diplomats amid heightened tensions between the two neighboring countries.
According to Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry, Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian had a “detailed discussion … regarding the existing dissatisfaction and misunderstandings between the two countries.”
The ministry said Bayramov “pointed out that it is important to respect Azerbaijan’s independent foreign policy based on its national interests and its bilateral relations with the countries of the region,” likely a reference to Azerbaijan’s ties with Israel, which have strained its relations with Iran.
Iranian state media reported that the top diplomats discussed ways to solve “existing problems and misunderstandings” during two separate phone conversations, one on Friday evening and another on Saturday afternoon.
Amir-Abdollahian referred to an Israeli “conspiracy against the unity, security and progress of the countries of the region” in his talks with Bayramov, Iranian media said.
On Thursday, Azerbaijan declared four employees of Iran’s embassy in Baku persona non grata and expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over “recent provocative actions” by Iran.
The embassy staff were given 48 hours to leave Azerbaijan.
Earlier the same day, Azerbaijani authorities announced the arrest of six Azeri nationals who were allegedly linked to Tehran and were accused of plotting a coup in the country.
The two countries, which share a border of approximately 700 kilometers (430 miles), have a complex relationship that has been marked by tension for some time now. However, tensions intensified in January following an armed attack on Azerbaijan’s embassy in Tehran, which resulted in the death of an Azerbaijani security official and left two others wounded.
While Iranian authorities attributed the attack to “personal and family problems” of the Iranian assailant who was subsequently arrested, Azerbaijan blamed Iran for the attack, with a spokesman from Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry saying that the attack was “encouraged” by an anti-Azerbaijani campaign in Iranian media.
Iran has expressed concerns over Azerbaijan’s relations with Israel, a major arms supplier to Baku. Tehran is also wary over nationalists in Azerbaijan and its close ally Turkey fanning separatist tendencies among its sizeable ethnic Azeri population.
Azeris constitute the largest minority group in Iran, with millions of them residing in a region in northwestern Iran that shares the same name as the independent state of Azerbaijan.
On the other hand, Azerbaijan has accused Iran of siding with Armenia in the decades-long dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.