The presidents of the five Caspian Sea littoral states – Iran, Republic of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia – held their fifth summit, ending in a landmark and hard-won agreement on the landlocked lake’s legal regime. Hosted by Kazakhstan, the summit also resulted in the signature of six documents for strategic and economic cooperation in the Caspian Sea.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said the deal on the Caspian Sea’s legal regime was a very significant step in line with further convergence among the countries bordering the vast body of water.
“Today the Caspian Sea, as a very important and strategic zone, is the center of friendship, cooperation and convergence among its governments and nations,” he said, adding that the Convention on the Legal Regime of the Caspian Sea was a sovereign instrument governing obligations and rights of the five littoral states.
Before this convention was signed, the only agreements ever signed on the Caspian Sea dated back to 1921 and 1940 – both between Iran and the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Rouhani said that the new convention did not divvy up Caspian Sea bed resources, adding that separate agreements would be needed for dividing the rich hydrocarbon reserves. The Iranian president said the only option for the Caspian Sea states to prevent any dispute in recovery from the subsea energy resources in un-demarcated zones was “joint production” from the resources. He called on the littoral states to steer clear of any unilateral exploration and production activities. Rouhani’s remarks make clear that the convention signed between the littoral states had not divided the Caspian resources, for which further talks are needed.
In response to speculation raised by the public opinion regarding the division of the Caspian Sea, it must be noted that due to the Islamic Republic’s full knowledge of legal issues as well as Republic of Azerbaijan- Turkmenistan dispute, the other four countries have been convinced to resolve the issue in the future. However, what is of significance is that the five nations have reached understanding on the Caspian Sea, which may be billed as a win-win deal. The convention on the Caspian Sea would allow for better agreements.
Environmental concerns and obligations in the Caspian Sea ecosystem, safety issues in the face of critical conditions and natural disasters, military security in the Caspian Sea and the ban on foreign military presence there, exchange of equipment and manpower between the littoral states and sharing experience in recovery from energy resources are all positive aspects of the convention that would help the Islamic Republic push ahead with its development objectives there.
Legally speaking, a country’s borderline lies up to 15 miles from land, while its fishing zone is up to 10 nautical miles. This law shall apply as long as no agreement has been reached on dividing the Caspian Sea. So far, no demarcation of the Caspian Sea has been legalized and littoral states are not authorized to carry out exploration or production activities outside their territorial waters. However, thanks to peace and friendship, and based on agreements between the littoral states, the Khazar Exploration and Production Company (KEPCO) – on behalf of National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) – started exploration surveys in the southern Caspian Sea two decades ago. These surveys have yielded positive results, whose updating has led to the signature of memorandums of cooperation with leading companies for joint oil cooperation with Republic of Azerbaijan.