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Caspian breakthrough in Astrakhan

30 September 2014 14:38 (UTC+04:00)
Caspian breakthrough in Astrakhan

By Elmira Tariverdiyeva
Russian city of Astrakhan hosted Sept. 29 the 4th Caspian Summit, which brought together heads of five Caspian littoral states - Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

This summit, according to the unanimous opinion of all parties, was the turning point in the talks on the status of the Caspian Sea.

Indeed, yesterday there was something that no one expected - the five countries after many years of talks managed to agree upon key principles of the sea's status. As the heads of the five states said, the parties agreed on the principles of cooperation and inked a political statement, which precedes the signing of a convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea.

This convention will be a cornerstone of the final document on determining the sea's status. And the five countries' leaders are convinced that at the next summit in Kazakhstan in 2016 it will be possible to sign the document, and thus to settle all differences.

There is already an agreement on dividing the Caspian Sea into two zones; the first being the zone of coastal countries' state sovereignty and the second being the fishing zone. But the main issue over the eighteen years of talks has been the delineation of the Caspian Sea, or more specifically division of the shelf.

And this is not surprising, as the issue of the shelf's division will eventually determine the share of hydrocarbon reserves. Caspian Sea is one of the world's largest oil- and gas-bearing regions, only being behind the Persian Gulf in terms of reserves.

The positions of Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan coincide on this issue as each country can receive over 20 percent on the Caspian seabed.

Given the Azerbaijani, Russian and Kazakh presidents' statements that the summit in Astrakhan was a breakthrough, one can assume that the sides tried to settle exactly this at the last meeting and made certain progress.

The summit was a breakthrough "in bringing the Caspian littoral countries' positions together", Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said following the summit. This means that someone at the negotiating table had to make a reasonable compromise for the sake of progress in the protracted process of discussing the Caspian Sea status. By the highest standards, the agreement on the key issues of the Caspian Sea status will play an important role in the interaction in the region. This will bring significant benefits to all participants in the negotiations.

Iran has always stood aloof. It continued to insist that the national area of the country is the one that Tehran had when the Caspian Sea was divided between it and the Soviet Union. However, it is likely that today, considering the "four against one" scenario, Tehran will soften its position. New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is trying to drag the country from the Western sanctions, may be ready to ease Iran's stance in exchange for economic benefits.

Without focusing on the very sharp contradiction regarding the shelf delimitation, the regional countries will be able to smoothly intensify the cooperation in the energy and transport sectors, to attract investments and modern technologies, to protect the ecological system of the sea. By the way, these issues were also discussed in Astrakhan.

The "Caspian Five" can create an organization for the coordination of joint projects, Russian President Vladimir Putin said following the summit. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, in turn, proposed to create a free trade zone on the Caspian Sea.

Moreover, all participants agreed that the Caspian Sea littoral countries must guarantee the security without involving other countries. A document on the safety of biological resources of the Caspian Sea was signed at the summit.

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