Turkmenistan ready to negotiate on disputed Caspian oil field

Turkmenistan`s Foreign Ministry has said it is ready to continue negotiations with Azerbaijan on a disputed oil field in the Caspian Sea. The statement comes a week after the Turkmen oil and gas minister said Ashgabat would take the dispute over the ownership of the potentially lucrative Kapaz field (referred to by Turkmenistan as Serdar) to the UN International Court of Justice.

In a statement released by the country`s embassy in Baku on Tuesday, the Turkmen Foreign Ministry said that, further to Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov`s statement that Turkmenistan has not formally appealed to Azerbaijan over the consideration of the issue in court, it states that diplomatic notes have been repeatedly sent to Baku over the country`s alleged ``illegal unilateral actions in the Caspian Sea``. The ministry was referring to the development of Azeri (Osman) and Chirag (Omar) offshore deposits -- being developed by an international consortium consisting of world energy majors including BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Statoil -- as well as Azerbaijan`s alleged claims to the Kapaz field.

``In its formal notifications the Turkmen side expressed its readiness to continue the negotiation process on the above-mentioned matter and emphasized that in case of failure to reach a bilateral agreement Turkmenistan reserves the right to appeal to international courts and arbitration bodies,`` the Turkmen ministry`s statement said.

The statement also says that on August 4, 2009 the ministry laid out Turkmenistan`s official stance on the delimitation of the Caspian seabed between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, which also noted that taking the matter to an international court was appropriate.

``Based on the above-mentioned, the Turkmen side expresses its astonishment and incomprehension of the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister`s statement,`` the Turkmen ministry said.

On Monday Minister Mammadyarov told the press that Turkmenistan has not sent any diplomatic notes to Azerbaijan over the Kapaz field dispute.

Turkmenistan`s oil and gas minister Kakageldy Abdullaev recently claimed that on the basis of the Caspian median line delineated in accord with international law, the Serdar field is located completely in the Turkmen sector of the basin.

Tensions between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over the oil-and-gas zone flared in June after an Azerbaijani border patrol boat stopped a Turkmen vessel that Ashgabat said was conducting research in the disputed region. The two sides accused each other of provocations and vowed to defend their rights.

Experts estimate that the Kapaz field could hold about 50 million tons of oil.

The Kapaz field was discovered by Azerbaijani oil workers. During the Soviet era, the field was considered ``intermediate`` due to its being located on the median line between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. A major dispute over possession of the field surfaced between the two countries in the 1990s.

During talks on the legal status of the Caspian, Baku previously offered Ashgabat joint development of the Kapaz field.

Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan have signed their own bilateral deals dividing 64 per cent of the Caspian Sea among them. Turkmenistan and Iran do not recognize the agreements.

Turkmenistan had leveled claims to the Kapaz oil field as early as during the tenure of its former leader Saparmurat Niyazov. Later, tensions temporarily subsided, and the incumbent Turkmen President, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, paid an official visit to Azerbaijan in May 2008, while his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev visited Turkmenistan in November. Thus, a rapprochement discerned in Azerbaijani-Turkmen relations, and, for some time, it appeared as if the dispute between the two countries had come to an end.