Azerbaijan has announced that it is expelling four Iranian diplomats for carrying out activities “incompatible with diplomatic status” and accused Tehran of plotting a coup in the Caspian nation. The move on Thursday came hours after Baku said it arrested six men, who it claimed were linked to Iranian secret services and were planning to destabilize the situation in the country.
The foreign ministry in Baku said it had “summoned” Iran’s ambassador and told him that “four employees of the Iranian embassy were declared persona non grata” with 48 hours to leave the country. It did not provide further details about the alleged provocative actions by the Iranian diplomats.
The expulsion of the Iranian envoys is the latest escalation of tensions between the neighbours, which have long been strained over various issues, including Azerbaijan’s close ties with Iran’s historical rival Turkey and its improving relations with Iran’s regional foe Israel. Baku has also criticised Iran for allegedly backing Armenia in the decades-long conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Azerbaijan closed its embassy in Tehran in January after its head of security was killed in an attack, and last week opened an embassy in Israel. Iran has attacked Azerbaijan for moving closer to Israel, with its foreign ministry saying it sees the fledging relationship between Azerbaijan and Israel as “anti-Iranian”.
The expulsion of the Iranian diplomats also comes a week after an attempted assassination of an anti-Tehran Azerbaijani lawmaker, Fazil Mustafa, who was hospitalised after being shot with a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Azerbaijan has called the incident a “terror attack” and suggested that Iran may have been connected to it.
Iran has not yet commented on the expulsion of its diplomats or the arrest of the alleged coup plotters. The developments have raised concerns about a possible regional crisis involving Iran, Azerbaijan and their allies. Iran, which is home to millions of Turkic-speaking ethnic Azerbaijanis, has long accused Azerbaijan of fomenting separatist sentiment inside its territory. The neighbors share a border that runs near the Caspian Sea.
The tensions have come as Iran is normalizing ties with Saudi Arabia, which began with a surprise China-brokered deal last month to restore diplomatic relations that were severed seven years ago.