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Iran Under Pressure By Russia To Accept A Small Share Of The Caspian


A helicopter lands on an oil platform in the Caspian Sea, east of Baku, January 22, 2013

Iran’s foreign ministry has sharply contradicted recent claims by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, that an agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea is “practically ready”.

Bahram Qassemi, the spokesman of Islamic Republic’s foreign ministry announced on December 15, that not only the status issue has not been resolved, but reaching an agreement was not even on the agenda of littoral states’ meeting held in Moscow on December 4-5.

The issue of maritime borders and access to Caspian’s vast fossil fuel deposits is a thorny issue for Iran. Russia and the other former Soviet states have agreed among each other to give Iran a tiny part of the inland sea.

The issue of maritime borders and access to Caspian’s vast fossil fuel deposits is a thorny issue for Iran. Russia and the other former Soviet states have agreed among each other to give Iran a tiny part of the inland sea.

Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov had insisted that after more than twenty years of talks, an agreement on the legal status of the Caspian was "practically ready" for signing when the presidents of the littoral states attend a summit next year in Kazakhstan.

Lavrov met in Moscow with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan on December 4-5.

After the meeting ended, Lavrov told reporters: "I am pleased to tell you that we have found solutions to all outstanding key issues linked with this document. The text of the convention is practically ready."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) gestures next to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers of the Caspian Sea littoral states in Moscow, December 05, 2017
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) gestures next to his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers of the Caspian Sea littoral states in Moscow, December 05, 2017

It is worth noting that Lavrov faced reporters alone, in what was supposed to be a joint press conference by all foreign ministers.

Lavrov’s comments triggered a wave of angry reactions in Tehran. Iran’s deputy foreign minister for Asia, Pacific and Commonwealth affairs, Ebrahim Rahimpour bitterly rejected Lavrov’s claims, “Suggesting that Iran’s share in Caspian Sea has been finalized is a false and unfounded remark, misleading public opinion”.

Echoing Rahimpour’s response, Qassemi emphasized that ministers’ discussions on the Legal Status of Caspian Sea Convention were only over the generalities and principles.

Meanwhile, Qassemi reiterated that discussing demarcation and delimitation of Caspian Sea will take years to be finalized.

Iran’s retreat in the face of Russian pressure has angered many in the country, who see the Islamic Republic as unable to defend what they believe is the country’s historic rights.

Bahram Qassemi also reiterated that no document had been signed at the Moscow summit though it had been agreed that certain legal measures be taken after internal coordination and holding several bilateral expert meetings; “eventually, effort will be made to implement the Convention of the Caspian Sea Legal Regime after the final text is signed at a forthcoming meeting of the Presidents of the five Caspian Sea countries, the date of which will be agreed on later.”

However, the details of discussions on the Legal Status of Caspian Sea Convention in Moscow are yet to be disclosed.

Since the downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the littoral states of Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan have repeatedly discussed the legal status of the world’s largest lake or full-fledged sea.

Though the discussions have not been fruitful so far, Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have been successful in reaching bilateral and trilateral agreements, dividing the sea bed among themselves.

Russia and Azerbaijan and Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan have already divided the seabed of the Caspian Sea according to the Russian proposed formula of the Modified Median Line which divides the seabed on the basis of the length of coasts and leaves the superjacent waters as common. Using this formula will leave Iran with less than 13 percent of the Caspian Sea, says Bahman Aghaei Diba, an expert in international law of the sea.

The Caspian Sea region produced an average of 2.6 million barrels per day of crude oil and lease condensate in 2012, around 3.4% of the total world supply.

Immediately after the collapse of Soviet Union, Iran expected to receive a 50% share of Caspian Sea. Tehran argued that based on an old agreement with Moscow, the sea should be equally divided between Iran, on one side and the newly created republics of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan on the other.

However, apparently, Iran has recently reduced its demand to 20% of Caspian Sea while the other littoral states are not prepared to give away more than 12% share of the sea to Tehran.

Iran’s retreat in the face of Russian pressure has angered many in the country, who see the Islamic Republic as unable to defend what they believe is the country’s historic rights.

US Energy Information Administration, EIA estimates that there were 48 billion barrels of oil and 292 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of natural gas in proved and probable reserves within the basins that make up the Caspian Sea and Surrounding area in 2012.

Offshore fields account for 41% of total Caspian crude oil and lease condensate (19.6 billion barrels) and 36% of natural gas (106 Tcf). In general, most of the offshore oil reserves are in the northern part of the Caspian Sea, while most of the offshore natural gas reserves are in the southern part of the Caspian Sea.

In addition, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates another 20 billion barrels of oil and 243 Tcf of natural gas in as yet undiscovered, technically recoverable resources. Much of this is located in the South Caspian Basin, where territorial disputes over offshore waters hinder exploration.

EIA estimates that the Caspian Sea region produced an average of 2.6 million barrels per day of crude oil and lease condensate in 2012, around 3.4% of the total world supply. Over the past decade, Kazakhstan's onshore oil fields, particularly the Tengiz field, were the biggest contributor to the region's production.

As Azerbaijan developed the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli (ACG) field group between 2006 and 2008, its offshore production began accounting for an increasing part of total Caspian production. Other significant sources of Caspian oil include production in Turkmenistan near the coast and in Russia's North Caucasus region.

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