Working Group on Caspian Sea to Hold Routine Session For Elaborating Its Legal Status

A routine session of the working group for elaborating the legal status of the Caspian Sea will open on Monday in Alma-Ata (Kazakhstan) at the level of deputy foreign ministers of five Caspian states.

During the eight previous rounds of negotiations, which have been held since 1996, these states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan) failed to come to consensus on the legal status of the Caspian Sea - be it a sea or a lake and how to divide the bottom and water surface. As of today the stances of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia practically coincide. Moscow, Astana and Baku believe that the bottom of the Caspian Sea can be divided into national sectors from the so-called modified equi-distant point leaving the water surface in the common use. This allowed the three states to come to agreement on the delimitation of the sea bottom in conterminous sections and conclude bilateral agreements with the purpose of observing the sovereign rights of using mineral resources.

Iran was resolutely against this approach to determining the status of the Caspian Sea until recently, insisting either on the principle of condominium (all states should have 20 percent of the bottom and 20 percent of water surface each) or on that both should be in the common use. Turkmenistan, which partially agreed with Iran earlier, now is coming ever more closely to the stands of its northern neighbours. Teheran, which was traditionally against any bilateral agreements on the Caspian Sea, now believes that such agreements are possible. The signing of bilateral agreements on the Caspian Sea between Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan evidently softened Iran's stance. These agreements have shown, in particular, that Russia is firmly going to keep the borders, which were determined by the USSR, and it will not accept the conditions proposed by Iran on the 20-percent division of the Caspian Sea.

RIA Novosti was told in the Kazakh foreign ministry that the date of the meeting has been coordinated by all sides. Taking part in it will be heads of delegations - Russian president's special envoy on the Caspian Sea issue, deputy foreign minister Viktor Kalyuzhny, first deputy foreign minister of Kazakhstan Kairat Abuseitov, deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan Khalaf Khalafov, special representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the issues of the Caspian Sea Mehdi Safari and chairman of the state enterprise on the Caspian Sea questions under president of Turkmenistan Khoshgeldy Babayev. The sides intend to continue coordinating the draft Convention on the legal Status of the Caspian Sea. The work will last till May 14.

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