Caspian Sea na­tions sign land­mark deal

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

AK­TAU, Kaza­khstan: The lead­ers of the five states bor­der­ing the re­sourcerich Caspian Sea signed a land­mark deal yes­ter­day on the le­gal sta­tus of the in­land sea which boasts a wealth of oil and gas re­serves and stur­geon. The lead­ers of Azer­bai­jan, Iran, Kaza­khstan, Rus­sia and Turk­menistan signed the agree­ment on the sta­tus of the in­land sea, which has been dis­puted since the col­lapse of the Soviet Union ren­dered ob­so­lete agree­ments be­tween Tehran and Moscow.

The host, Kazakh Pres­i­dent Nur­sul­tan Nazarbayev, said be­fore the sign­ing that the lead­ers were “par­tic­i­pants in a his­toric event”. “We can ad­mit that con­sen­sus on the sta­tus of the sea was hard to reach and not im­me­di­ate, the talks lasted more than 20 years and called for a lot of joint ef­forts from the par­ties,” Nazarbayev said.

Rus­sian leader Vladimir Putin, whose coun­try was seen as driv­ing the deal, said the con­ven­tion had “epoch-mak­ing sig­nif­i­cance” and called for more mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the coun­tries on the Caspian. Nazarbayev said the con­ven­tion al­lows for the con­struc­tion of un­der­wa­ter oil and gas pipe­lines as well as set­ting na­tional quo­tas for fish­ing and for­bids any for­eign mil­i­tary pres­ence.

Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani was quick to hail the clause that pre­vents non-Caspian coun­tries from de­ploy­ing mil­i­tary forces. “The Caspian Sea only be­longs to the Caspian states,” he said. Putin also praised this clause, say­ing it would help “en­sure the peace­ful sta­tus of the Caspian Sea”. The deal pro­vides a means of de­lim­it­ing na­tional bound­aries in the sea whose un­der­ground en­ergy re­sources are es­ti­mated at 50 bil­lion bar­rels of oil and just un­der 300 tril­lion cu ft (8.4 tril­lion cu m) of nat­u­ral gas. But Rouhani stressed sev­eral times dur­ing the sum­mit that th­ese bound­aries still need to be worked out be­tween the coun­tries. Iran, which ended up with the small­est share of the sea un­der the terms of the con­ven­tion, is viewed as a po­ten­tial loser in the deal.

Yes­ter­day’s sum­mit was the fifth of its kind since 2002 but there have been more than 50 lower-level meet­ings since the Soviet breakup spawned four new coun­tries on the shores of the Caspian. The deal goes some way to set­tling a long-last­ing dis­pute on whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake - which means it falls un­der dif­fer­ent in­ter­na­tional laws. While the con­ven­tion refers to the Caspian as a sea, pro­vi­sions in the agree­ment give it “a spe­cial le­gal sta­tus”, Rus­sian deputy for­eign min­is­ter Grig­ory Karasin told Kom­m­er­sant daily ear­lier this week. The agree­ment also of­fers hope for the Caspian’s eco­log­i­cal diver­sity and its de­pleted stocks of the bel­uga stur­geon, whose eggs are prized glob­ally as caviar.

While it re­mains to be seen how the deal will be im­ple­mented, the sum­mit in Ak­tau was an­other op­por­tu­nity for Moscow to present it­self as a diplo­matic deal-maker. Af­ter years of un­suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions on the Caspian the Krem­lin “gains po­lit­i­cal ku­dos for break­ing a log-jam,” said John Roberts, a non-res­i­dent se­nior fel­low at At­lantic Coun­cil’s Eura­sia Cen­ter.

Turk­men leader Gur­ban­guly Berdy­mukhame­dov greeted the deal en­thu­si­as­ti­cally as his coun­try wants to send gas to mar­kets in Europe via a long-planned Trans-Caspian un­der­wa­ter pipe­line. The project is billed as al­low­ing Euro­pean coun­tries to ease their de­pen­dence on gas from Rus­sia at a time of height­ened geopo­lit­i­cal con­fronta­tion. Nev­er­the­less, Iran and Rus­sia could still chal­lenge the pipe­line on eco­log­i­cal grounds. They have pre­vi­ously blocked the project, which could cost up to $5 bil­lion to build and would have a pro­jected ca­pac­ity of 30 bil­lion cu m per year.

Kate Mallinson, As­so­ciate Fel­low for the Rus­sia and Eura­sia Pro­gram at Chatham House, urged cau­tion over the prospects for the pipe­line, say­ing the Ak­tau deal “is not a le­gal pre­req­ui­site for the con­struc­tion”. “Nei­ther will a ma­jor transport cor­ri­dor to ex­port Turk­men gas to Europe emerge overnight.”

AK­TAU, Kaza­khstan: (From left) Az­eri Pres­i­dent Il­ham Aliyev, Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, Kazakh Pres­i­dent Nur­sul­tan Nazarbayev, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and Turk­men Pres­i­dent Gur­ban­guly Berdy­mukhame­dov pose af­ter the sign­ing cer­e­mony at the 5th Caspian Sum­mit yes­ter­day. — AFP

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