MOSCOW – The foreign ministers of Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran are to meet on Monday and Tuesday in Moscow to discuss the 5th Caspian Summit, where a convention on the legal status of the sea shared by the five countries is expected to be reached.
“The ministers will focus in the convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea ... The main objective of the meeting is to prepare for the 5th Caspian Summit to be held in Kazakhstan,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement.
The meeting in Moscow, which begins on Monday night, is to be attended by the top diplomats from the five Caspian Sea countries, including Lavrov, who is hosting the meeting, and his Kazakh counterpart, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, whose country is set to hold the next summit.
The summit should have been held this year, but it seems that the differences among the countries over the future agreement on the Caspian remain a year and a half after Kazakhstan announced that the convention would be signed in 2017.
The Kazakhs listed four areas where consensus had not yet been reached in mid-2016: the coating of communication lines on the seabed; seabed borders; the navigation of different ships; and transit issues.
The last summit took place in the Russian city of Astrakhan in 2014.
The five nations then agreed to ban the presence of foreign military vessels on the sea, but they failed to agree on borders to exploit the Caspian’s vast natural resources.
Although officials agreed that each country would have two coastal zones under its control – a sovereign one of 15 nautical miles and another of 10 nautical miles with exclusive rights to exploit resources – they could not agree on what to do with the rest of the sea, a key aspect for the signing of a convention on legal status.
The Caspian Sea was shared by Moscow and Tehran under the treaties of 1921 and 1940, but the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991 ended this understanding with the independence of the other three riparian republics – Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
Although Iran came to demand control of half of the sea, it now asks for either the condominium of the entire sea among all the coastal states or its division into five equal parts.
The key is to define whether the Caspian, which has salt water but lacks an outlet to a larger body, is a lake or a sea, since its distribution and the control over one of the largest hydrocarbon reserves on the planet depend on it.
If it were a lake, the countries would be obliged to share the resources and benefits of exploitation equitably, while if it were a sea, they would have to set boundaries proportionally for the area that corresponds to each country from the coast.
In this second case, Iran would be responsible for only 13 percent of the Caspian and its less wealthy sector, according to experts, who estimate that more than half of the oil is located on the Kazakh shore.