(photo credit: Reuters)
Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov – the country’s highest-ranking official to visit Israel – arrived on Sunday to discuss security and bilateral issues.
His homeland is halfway through its two-year term as a rotating member of the United Nations Security Council. Azerbaijan, which was part of the former Soviet Union, borders Iran, and its population is mostly Muslim.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Elman Abdullayev told The Jerusalem Post
that as a Security Council member his country closely follows the Middle East peace process.
“Israeli-Palestinian issues are always a subject of discussion at the council,” he said, adding that it was important to be in touch with both Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Azerbaijan might be a small country, but it wants to increase its influence, he said, by improving ties with both Israelis and Palestinians.
“We are looking forward to expanding our cooperation with Israel on a bilateral level,” Abdullayev said. His country, he added, has a history of tolerance and a long-standing Jewish community.
“We are a very strong bridge between Europe and Asia, and between cultures.”
Israel’s ambassador to Azerbaijan Rafael Harpaz said that the two countries have a very close relationship. They have enjoyed diplomatic relations since 1992.
Most recent Israeli leaders have visited Azerbaijan, and many Israeli companies are active there in industries including telecommunication, agriculture, medical technology and energy, Harpaz said. The country also imports oil from Azerbaijan, he added.
There are some 30,000 Jews who live in Azerbaijan, including a remote community in the mountains that dates itself back to the Babylonian expulsion, he said.
“It has zero anti-Semitism,” Harpaz said.
Mammadyarov met on Sunday with Yisrael Beytenu head MK Avigdor Liberman, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
He then traveled Ramallah to meet with Palestinian officials, including outgoing Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who recently submitted his formal resignation.
In the next two days Mammadyarov is due to meet with other Israeli leaders, including President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will also speak with Israelis originally from Azerbaijan.