Convention on legal status of Caspian Sea signed in Aktau

ITAR-TASS  Oleg Kuzmin

The heads of states of Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan signed the Convention on the legal status of the resource-rich Caspian Sea, a matter disputed between the five neighbors for more than 20 years.

Iranian President Hasan Rouhani, according to the news agency Interfax, says "this issue will be settled additionally in the course of agreements between the relevant parties".

Talks in the port city of Aktau should help ease tensions in a militarised region where the legal limbo has scuppered lucrative projects and strained relations among nations along the Caspian's 7,000-kilometre shoreline.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whose country was driving the deal, said the convention had "epoch-making significance" and called for more military cooperation between the countries on the Caspian. With the Soviet Union's collapse as well as the discovery of valuable resources in the basin, the interests of the littoral states diversified.

At stake are the Caspian's vast oil and gas reserves.

Speaking after the signing on Sunday, all five leaders praised it as historic event, but provided little detail about provisions on splitting the seabed.

The terminology matters because it dictates how the littoral states use the body of water and how the Caspian's resources are divvied up.

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The US Energy Information Administration estimated in 2012 there were 48 billion barrels of oil and 8.3 trillion cubic metres of natural gas beneath its seabed.

Nevertheless, Rouhani hailed a stipulation in the convention that prevents non-Caspian countries from deploying military forces on the sea.

The agreement apparently permits something that Russian Federation had been opposing - allowing Turkmenistan to build a "Trans-Caspian Pipeline" (TCP) to permit delivery of its gas to Azerbaijan, where it would be pumped into pipelines leading west to Turkey and Europe.

It also found an abnormally large proportion of young sturgeon in comparison to more mature fish which produce the eggs used to make caviar. However, this objection is laughable, since Russia's Gazprom has laid several pipelines in the Black Sea, which also has a "unique biosphere".

"We have established 15-mile-wide territorial waters whose borders become state borders", Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev told a briefing after signing the Caspian convention.

It remained unclear whether the convention adopted on Sunday would definitely clear a way for the pipeline.

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