Iran welcomes Azerbaijan's release of truck drivers

Iran welcomes Azerbaijan's release of truck drivers
Two Iranian truck drivers who arrested in Azerbaijan last month have been released.
2 min read
Azerbaijani authorities arrested the men last month [Getty]

Iran on Saturday welcomed the release by Azerbaijan of two Iranian truck drivers arrested in September, speaking of a "constructive" decision marking a thaw in ties between the neighbouring countries.

Azerbaijan's customs department said on Thursday it had handed over the drivers to the Iranian side in a decision "guided by principles of humanitarianism, mutual respect and good neighbourliness".

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian hailed the drivers' release as "a constructive step" to "pave the way for dispelling misunderstandings," according to a statement.

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Amir-Abdollahian made his remarks during a telephone exchange with his Azerbaijani counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov.

Baku had accused the drivers of entering the country illegally, bypassing border control to avoid customs duties on cargo transit to Armenia.

Azerbaijan imposed the duties after retaking a stretch of its border with Iran that had been under Armenian control for three decades in a six-week war late last year. 

Earlier this month, Azerbaijan said it had agreed with Iran to resolve a diplomatic crisis through dialogue weeks after ties soured over allegations Israel's military was active in Azerbaijan.

Iran in September protested against what it said was the presence of its sworn enemy Israel in Azerbaijan and vowed to take any necessary action. 

It staged military exercises near its border with Azerbaijan, sparking criticism from officials in Baku, which has denied Iranian claims.

Azerbaijan said its Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov had spoken by phone with Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and the pair had agreed to resolve differences through dialogue.

"The sides noted that recent rhetoric has harmed bilateral relations and that any differences should be settled through dialogue," Azerbaijan's foreign ministry said in a statement.

Israel is a major arms supplier to Azerbaijan, which late last year won a six-week war with neighbour Armenia for control over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Azerbaijan and Iran have long been at loggerheads over Tehran's backing of Armenia in the decades-long Karabakh conflict.

Last year's brief war ended with a Russian-brokered ceasefire that saw Yerevan cede swathes of contested territories, including a section of Azerbaijan's 700-kilometre (430-mile) border with Iran which for decades had been under Armenian control.

Azerbaijan's decision to impose customs duty on Iranian truck drivers transiting to Armenia through that territory also fuelled tensions.

The statement from Azerbaijan's foreign ministry earlier this month said the two sides had agreed it was "necessary to establish direct dialogue between government agencies of both countries on transit issues."

Tehran has long been wary of separatist sentiments among ethnic Azerbaijanis, who make up around 10 million of Iran's 83 million people.