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Caspian Summit in Astrakhan finalizes with breakthrough

30 September 2014 16:45 (UTC+04:00)
Caspian Summit in Astrakhan finalizes with breakthrough

By Nigar Oruova

The ice moved on the determination of the status of Caspian Sea in Astrakhan where heads of five littoral states gathered at the fourth Caspian Summit on September 29.

Some five-sided intergovernmental documents were signed as part of the summit by relevant ministries of Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

The list of agreements included an agreement on cooperation in hydrometeorology of the Caspian Sea, an agreement on cooperation in warning and liquidating emergencies in the Caspian Sea and an agreement on the preservation and rational use of water biological resources in the Caspian Sea.

Leaders of the Caspian states also agreed on the principles of national sovereignty of each country over the coastal maritime space in the range of 15 miles and 10 "fishing" miles, a policy statement adopted by the leaders of the Caspian Five said, RIA Novosti reported.

The participants also agreed on the principles of the right for free access from the Caspian Sea to other seas and back on the basis of international law, taking into account the interests of the transit parties, the statement said.

At an expanded meeting, Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev said the Caspian Sea should remain a zone of peace, friendship, cooperation and good neighborliness.

"We believe that the presence of the armed forces of each sides and its military activity in the Caspian Sea must be based on the principle of equal security conditions for all Caspian-littoral countries," he said.

The president emphasized the importance of bilateral relations on the demarcation of the Caspian Sea between Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia, Kazakhstan and Russia, as well as the tripartite agreement among Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia.

"These agreements play an important role in a comprehensive settlement of the legal status of the Caspian Sea," the president said. "Azerbaijan believes that the principles set out in these agreements are a good basis for reaching agreements on the Caspian Sea demarcation between all littoral countries."

The president said the deepening of trade and economic ties, improvement of investment climate for developing and delivering energy resources to international markets, the creation of safe and secure communications, and utilization of highly profitable and environmentally friendly technologies in the Caspian Sea region, are among priority activities.

Aliyev noted that Azerbaijan attaches great importance to cooperation in the area of environment and shares the littoral states' common concerns over the current state of the Caspian environment.

President Aliyev said Azerbaijan believes that the general principle of using a median line as a fundamental norm for seabed demarcation is inevitable. "Azerbaijan also attaches great importance to navigation, open access and transit from the Caspian Sea to other seas," he added.

Caspian Sea is one of the world's largest oil and gas-bearing regions in the world after the Persian Gulf. The issue of the shelf's division will eventually determine the share of hydrocarbon reserves.

The legal status of the Caspian Sea has been a subject of discussion among the littoral states for over 12 years. The uncertain position of the sea hinders the implementation of oil and gas projects of billions dollars.

Addressing the meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin said a convention on the Caspian Sea's legal status will be adopted during the next summit of the Caspian littoral states, ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Putin said the Caspian littoral states' heads agreed on a political statement, which, for the first time ever, defines the main principles of a five-sided cooperation on the Caspian Sea.

After the summit, he said, the major part of the Caspian Sea basin will remain in the common use of the Caspian Sea littoral states, which allows to eliminate any misunderstanding or tension in the interstate relations emerged earlier due to different interpretations of the regime of the Caspian Sea waters.

The governments of Azerbaijan and Russia have signed a document on encouragement and mutual protection of investments in Astrakhan.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani drew the participants' attention to the vulnerable environment of the Caspian Sea. He said the littoral states should do their best to prevent extremism, terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crimes in the Caspian Sea region.

The Iranian president said peace and security in the Caspian Sea can be guaranteed by avoiding arms race and taking unilateral measures, as well as limiting shipping right for only five littoral countries and making collective decisions.

Peace, stability and comprehensive development in the region would be achieved by paying attention to long-term interests and making collective decisions, he noted.

For his part, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed to create a free trade zone in the Caspian Sea.

"I propose to create a Caspian free trade zone. This issue can be one of the first issues for substantive discussion on the level of our governments," he said. He also proposed to view the opportunity of convergence among the economies of the Caspian regional countries and increasing trade volumes among them given the current state of the world market.

President Nazarbayev also urged the participants of the summit to agree on the principles of a free way from the Caspian Sea to other seas and the world oceans as a whole on the basis of universally recognized norms and principles of international law.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov said the work on the draft convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea develops positively and the countries see significant convergence of their positions on the majority of terms of this important document.

The legal status of the sea will decide whether it is a sea or a lake. If the Caspian Sea gains the status of a lake, its waters will be equally divided into five sectors. The status of the sea gives each of the five countries to have the right to exploit the resources in the territorial waters, the amount of which will depend on the length of its coastline. In this case, Iran will be in the most disadvantaged situation, while the greatest benefice will go to Kazakhstan.

The positions of Azerbaijan, Russia and Kazakhstan coincide on this issue as each country can receive over 20 percent on the Caspian seabed. However, the other littoral states -Turkmenistan and Iran- have not reached a consensus yet.

The next Caspian Summit will be held in Kazakhstan and it is expected to a decisive one.

The breakthrough in the negotiation process may be the result of the efforts of Russia to espouse the process of economic and political consolidation of the region amid pressure from the West in connection with the crisis in Ukraine. In this situation, Moscow, as well as Tehran, which in talks with the West over its nuclear program, are interested in creating a strategic center, free from the influence of the USA and the EU.

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