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Wednesday, 27 March 2002

CASPIAN COUNTRIES PREPARE FOR SUMMIT

Published in Field Reports

By Gulnara Ismailova, a freelance journalist, based in Baku, Azerbaijan (3/27/2002 issue of the CACI Analyst)

There is no common approach among littoral countries of the Caspian sea regarding the legal basis of the Caspian Sea. Relations between Caspian countries regarding exploitation of the sea determinate two treaties concluded in 1921 – between Soviet Russia and Persia, and also in 1940 –between Soviet Union and Iran.

Baku, Moscow and Astana have basically agreed on a solution dividing the bottom of the sea and keeping the water common, however, Iran’s position remains the main impediment to a solution.

There is no common approach among littoral countries of the Caspian sea regarding the legal basis of the Caspian Sea. Relations between Caspian countries regarding exploitation of the sea determinate two treaties concluded in 1921 – between Soviet Russia and Persia, and also in 1940 –between Soviet Union and Iran.

Baku, Moscow and Astana have basically agreed on a solution dividing the bottom of the sea and keeping the water common, however, Iran’s position remains the main impediment to a solution. In a recent interview to Teheran TV, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs Kamal Kharazzi declared that interests of all littoral countries should be taken into consideration. Hence Iran considers the condominium principle the best solution to the Caspian’s status and sticks to the stance that if Caspian countries should come to a decision to divide the sea, the same regime should be applied for the water and for the seabed. Iran believes it should thereby receive 20% of the sea. Moreover, Iran proposed joint exploitation of disputed oil fields.

On January 24 this year, during meeting of the special representatives of the Caspian countries, the first signs of an emerging common position were observed. At the completion of the summit, a communiqué on working out a status convention was signed. At the time, Iranian deputy minister of foreign affairs Mehdi Safari called the meeting "useful and constructive".

At the end of February, an international conference in Moscow was used as another non-formal meeting of Caspian littoral states’ special representatives. For the first time in 10 years, the Caspian states agreed to create a joint center of environment monitoring, to form an economic community of Caspian countries, and to accelerate negotiations on the status.

During a meeting of the heads of state of the CIS countries in late February in Almaty, Turkmenistan’s President Saparmurad Niyazov proposed Caspian states’ leaders to meet on April 23-24 in Ashgabat.

On March 15, Iranian President Syed Mohammad Khatami told Niyazov he supported the idea to hold a summit of the five Caspian countries.

Meanwhile, on the eve of the planned summit, the US position on the issue became known. The Secretary f State’s advisor on Caspian issues Stephen Mann said that the exploitation of the oil resources of the Caspian was possible even without determining its legal status.

In addition Mann said any future agreement should not compromise the transportation of Caspian oil to world markets.

This statement was qualified as novel by political scientist Vafa Guluzade. In 1993, the U.S. administration insisted on the speedy determination of Caspian Sea status, considering that without that, the full exploitation of oil resources would be impossible. The recent statement implies that the U.S. now proceeds from the de facto state of affairs, in other words opposing a serious reorientation of de-facto existing Caspian national sectors, according to Guluzade.

Washington’s statement can be considered as a support for official Baku. That is particularly important in the light of Russian statements to the effect that consideration should be given to countries that are disadvantaged by nature. In reality, Moscow in no uncertain terms points to a desire to ensure that some Caspian countries, including Azerbaijan, would even in the case of a sectoral division have to cede part of their share in favor of Russia and Iran.

According to former Presidential advisor Eldar Namazov, the U.S. position seems to signify an unequivocal tough response of Washington to threats from official Teheran in March to exploit Caspian oil fields that Azerbaijan considers its own. Mann’s statement shows that Washington does not share the position of some countries of the region, primarily Russia, that all Caspian sea problems including the exploitation of oil fields, should be decided exclusively by the five coastal countries – giving others, including the U.S., no right to interfere in the resolution of these issues.

Despite the increased concurrence of the positions of the Caspian littoral states, there are still tensions regarding the Caspian Sea’s status. A speedy resolution of the problem seems imporbable in the immediate future.

Gulnara Ismailova, a freelance journalist, based in Baku, Azerbaijan

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