AZERBAIJAN: IS IRAN THE REASON FOR THE CIA DIRECTOR’S RECENT VISIT TO BAKU?

Political analysts in Baku are debating the reasons for an unannounced late September trip to Azerbaijan by Central Intelligence Agency Director Gen. Michael Hayden. US diplomats remain tight-lipped about the visit. Many local experts, however, contend that Hayden’s talks with Azerbaijani leaders likely concerned Iran, Azerbaijan’s neighbor to the south.

Gen. Hayden’s one-day visit on September 28, which included a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Minister of National Security Eldar Makhmudov, was not publicized in advance, and few details have since been provided. According to informed sources, the CIA director arrived in Baku late on the night of September 27. The Turan news agency has cited “unofficial sources” as saying Hayden stayed in a private downtown hotel at which special security measures were taken. He left Baku in the early evening on September 28.

US Embassy spokesperson Jonathan Henick told EurasiaNet that Hayden’s visit was part of a trip to several countries in the region. Henick would confirm only that Hayden discussed issues related to regional security and international terrorism with President Aliyev and National Security Minister Makhmudov. Azerbaijani officials likewise declined to elaborate on the nature or specifics of the discussions.

Some Azerbaijani analysts, however, see “the Iranian issue” as the most pressing reason for the CIA director’s trip. The trip came five days before an October 3 statement by US President George W. Bush that Washington was prepared, under certain conditions, to negotiate with Tehran on the nuclear issue.

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