PAPER WARNS AGAINST AZERI MEMBERSHIP OF ANTI-IRAN COALITION

Zerkalo, Baku
1 Apr 06

If Azerbaijan supports the USA more concretely following its
preliminary agreement to join the anti-Iran coalition, Tehran
will undoubtedly start taking serious retaliatory measures, the
Russian-language Azerbaijani daily Zerkalo has said.

The paper said that "Russia is one of the main opponents of US
sanctions against Iran and it cannot be ruled out that most of Iran's
retaliatory actions against Azerbaijan will be agreed with Russia".

Zerkalo believes that Iran and Russia will do their best to aggravate
the situation on the Armenian-Azerbaijani front line to be able to use
it to put pressure on Armenia and Azerbaijan and considerably reduce
the possibility of US attacks from Azerbaijani territory. The daily
said that Tehran may even recognize the independence of the "Nagornyy
Karabakh republic" in the event of Azerbaijan acting against Iran.

Zerkalo said that the Islamic factor could be another response to
Azerbaijan should it back US sanctions against Iran. The paper said
that "a critical mass of people may form..., taking into account the
extremely religious people in Baku's villages and Azerbaijan's southern
districts, and it will be difficult for the government to oppose them."

Moreover, Tehran will start raising the entire Arab world against
Azerbaijan. It is not known whether the country's law-enforcers will
be able to cope with extremists from the Mideast, Zerkalo said.

The paper noted that the USA is doing its best to prevent the
Nagornyy Karabakh conflict from escalating as it does not want to
have another seat of tension in the region when they start military
action against Iran.

"The US co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Steven Man, has been
talking about the Karabakh conflict more than any other co-chair
recently. He says 2006 is an optimal year for the Karabakh resolution,"
the paper said.

Zerkalo also cited as an example US Assistant Secretary of State
Daniel Fried's recent visit to the region and intensive talks with
the Azerbaijani and Armenian governments on the peaceful resolution
of the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict.

The daily said that as part of measures against Azerbaijan's
membership of the anti-Iranian coalition, Russia may aggravate the
economic and political situation in Azerbaijan and cause accidents on
gas pipelines. The paper did not rule out Moscow's sanctions against
Azerbaijanis working in Russia, a possible repetition of the situation
of the 1990s in Azerbaijan, and riots and terrorist attacks.

Zerkalo added that war against Iran, should it start, may pose a
threat to entire Azerbaijan and its oilfields.