Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Caspian Summit: Iran Backs Down

Caspian Sea

The Caspian summit ended in Tehran earlier today. The Kazak president voiced pleasure with preliminary agreements at expert level on the thorny issue of the division of the Caspian Sea and its rich oil and gas resources among the five bordering countries.

Kazakhstan, along with Russia and Azerbaijan, had been a staunch advocate of the median line legal regime, whereby the Caspian is divided based on the length of coastal lines of each country. Under such arrangement, Iran’s share would be reduced to just 13.6%.

In 1921, Iran signed a treaty with the Soviet Union dividing the Caspian in half between the two countries. The collapse of the Soviet Union and its replacement on Caspian shores with four independent states of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan did not legally annul the treaty. Under the international law, Iran would still own 50% of Caspian, and the Soviet’s share should have been divided among the four states replacing it.

During the Khatami administration, the Iranian government agreed to divide the Caspian according to the “spirit” of the 1921 treaty, thereby giving the five states, including Iran, an equal 20% share of the Caspian. The “letter” of treaty, however, had guaranteed the 50% share. The opposition has since accused the government of relinquishing Iran’s rights similar to capitulations at Gulistan and Turkmenchay in 1800’s when Persia renounced its rule over the present-day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan and handed them to Tsarist Russia.

The Ahmadinejad’s administration is apparently ready to go a step further and accept Russia’s median line formula which would give Iran a mere 13% share of the Caspian. This issue will have the potential of becoming the single most important factor of de-legitimizing the Islamic Republic’s rule in Iran.

The final legal status of the Caspian was scheduled to be formally agreed upon during the next summit in Baku in October 2008.

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