BAKU (Reuters)—Azerbaijan stopped a senior Iranian official entering the country on Tuesday, Iran’s embassy said on Tuesday, a move set to further sour relations between the Islamic Republic and its secular neighbor after a spat over the Eurovision Song Contest.
Tensions between the two countries have risen this year with both sides accusing the other of meddling in each other’s affairs and Iran’s withdrawal of its ambassador last week after clerics criticized Baku for hosting Eurovision.
“We report with great regret that the head of the culture department of Iran’s Supreme Leadership … was rejected from entering Azerbaijan on Monday,” the Iranian embassy said in a statement. “It was done in an undiplomatic way.”
It said the official was turned back at Baku international airport. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is the most powerful figure in Iran, and senior officials working directly for him in his office wield great sway.
Azeri officials declined to comment on the decision.
Azerbaijan was condemned for hosting the Eurovision contest, which some Iranian clerics and lawmakers saw as an affront to Islam.
Iran was angered by subsequent anti-Iranian protests in Baku, where demonstrators carried pictures of Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and also decried Iran’s relations with Armenia.
The latest dispute is part of wider diplomatic tensions between the neighbors which share a religion but have sharply different political systems.
Iran has accused Azerbaijan of assisting Israel in the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists.
Azerbaijan, for its part, has arrested dozens of people this year on suspicion of connections with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and of plotting attacks, including on the Israeli ambassador to Baku.
Earlier on Tuesday, Azerbaijan handed over a diplomatic note to Iran asking to clarify the whereabouts of two young Azeri poets, who have allegedly been arrested in the Iranian town of Tabriz during their visit to the country earlier this month.