Monday, October 15, 2007

The Caspian Summit: What’s At Stake?

A Caspian Sea summit between the leaders of Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan will take place tomorrow in Tehran. At stake is how to divide the Caspian Sea and its oil and natural gas resources among the five. Caspian Sea is believed to contain the world's third-largest energy reserves.

In 1921, Iran and Soviet Union signed a treaty dividing the Caspian Sea between them. Seventy years later, the Soviet Union collapsed and now five independent states bordered the Caspian. Three alternatives emerged as how to divide the sea.

  • Iran: 50%; four former Soviet republics: 50% - Iran and Soviet Union had signed a treaty in 1921 dividing the sea in half. The collapse of USSR was unrelated to Iran and could not possibly have any effects on Iran’s share. The four independent republics need to divide their own share among themselves. This view is strongly favored by Iran’s opposition groups and a number of political and academic figures in Iran.

  • 20% each: five equal parts for each independent state bordering the Caspian. The governments of the Islamic Republic and Turkmenistan favor this alternative. The Iranian government argues that according to the “spirit” of 1921 treaty, the Caspian and its resources should be divided equally among bordering states. The Iranian opposition regards the government’s position as treason similar to Gulistan and Turkmenchay treaties of 1813 and 1828 with Russia when Persia renounced its rule over present-day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, comprising 18 Cities of Caucasus.
  • The Median Line: Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan want the Caspian divided along the so-called media line, a division based on coastal sovereignty. Such division would leave Iran with a 13.6% share. Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have signed their own bilateral deals dividing 64% of the sea among them. Iran does not recognize the agreements, but those countries have used the deal to start developing oil and gas resources in northern Caspian.

Iran analysts do not expect any resolution of the legal status of the Caspian Sea during Tuesday’s summit meeting. The leaders of the five countries are expected to pass a declaration agreed upon on 20 June by their foreign ministers in Tehran. The declaration will not resolve the sea demarcation issue.

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