Iran has revoked the visas of four Azerbaijani diplomats, adding to tensions between the neighboring countries a month after Azerbaijan expelled four Iranian diplomats from Baku.
"The Iranian side, without any reason and citing the principle of reciprocity as an excuse, declared two employees of the embassy of our country in Iran, who were evacuated in January, as well as two employees of the consulate general, persona non grata," the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told VOA.
The move comes after Azerbaijan declared four employees of the Iranian Embassy in Azerbaijan persona non grata in early April "for activities inconsistent with diplomatic status and the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations."
The Iranian government has not issued an official statement on the matter, while the Iranian Embassy in Azerbaijan responded to VOA's request saying that Iranian officials and institutions do not give interviews to VOA.
Tensions have been on the rise between Azerbaijan and Iran in the past year. In January, there was an armed attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy in Tehran. The head of the embassy's security service was killed, and two other employees were injured. As a result, Azerbaijan suspended its diplomatic activities in the embassy.
Azerbaijan's former ambassador to Iran, Sadraddin Soltan, said there was hope that after Azerbaijan expelled four Iranian diplomats, the Iranian side would take a few goodwill steps regarding the attack on the Azerbaijani Embassy and its attitude toward Azerbaijan.
"On the contrary, they aggravated the situation," he told VOA. "Declaring four Azerbaijani diplomats persona non grata is a step taken by the Tehran authorities in the direction of straining relations between the countries, including relations in the diplomatic field."
Relations became further strained after Azerbaijan opened an embassy in Israel March 29. Iran's parliament issued a statement denouncing the move.
"This step of the Azerbaijani government will lead to many negative political consequences, and the Muslims of the world will see them as partners of the Zionist regime, which is killing and [causing the] suffering [of] the Palestinians. The Iranian parliament has called on the governments of Arab and Islamic countries and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to condemn this step of Azerbaijan."
Tehran fears that Israel can use Azerbaijani territory for a possible offensive against Iran, according to Paul Goble, a specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia and a former special adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State.
"They've also been very clear that, in their view, Azerbaijan's pro-Israel position is part of the general threat to Iran, that if Israel ever were going to attack Iran, Iranian targets, it would use Azerbaijan's territory to launch drones and even planes against Iranian targets," he said.
Although several rounds of negotiations have been held between the foreign ministers of the two countries in the direction of normalizing relations, the parties have not made any statements regarding the progress.
Dilshad Aliyarli contributed to this report.