BAKU, April 23 Israel denied on Monday that it
had gained access to air bases in the former Soviet republic of
Azerbaijan, which borders its foe Iran.
"Such reports are from the sphere of science fiction and do
not correspond with the truth," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor
Lieberman told reporters in the Azeri capital Baku.
Israel fears that Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at
producing weapons. Iran says it is purely for power generation
and other peaceful purposes.
Israel's defence minister said last week that military
action aimed to ensure that does not happen remains an option
even while nuclear negotiations between Tehran and six global
powers are under way after more than a year's hiatus.
There has been media speculation that Israel would seek to
use Azerbaijan as a launching ground for potential attacks on
Iran, and the U.S. journal Foreign Policy last month cited
sources as saying the United States has concluded that Israel
has recently been granted access to air bases on Iran's northern
"People with a very rich imagination publish such stories
... Media publish a lot of speculation," Lieberman said, adding
that he discussed bilateral relations as well as the "issue of
Iran" with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, but did not go into
"Relations with Azerbaijan could not be better. They are
trusting and productive," he said.
Azerbaijan, a mostly Shi'ite Muslim country with a secular
government, is home to more than 9,000 Jews in a population of 9
million and has friendly ties with Israel as well as with the
United States and Russia.
A major energy producer, it exports oil to Israel and
imports weapons and military hardware.
Relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, its much larger
southern neighbour, have been tense in recent months.
Iran has accused Azerbaijan of assisting Israeli
intelligence in killings of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Last month, security forces arrested several Azeris and
Iranians on suspicion of spying for Iran, plotting to attack
Western targets and smuggling arms from Iran into Azerbaijan.
(Reporting by Lada Evgrashina; writing by Margarita Antidze in
Tbilisi; editing by Steve Gutterman)