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Five Nations Meet In Kazakh Port To Sign Convention On Caspian Legal Status

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (second from right) jokes with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif (second from left) as Azerbaijan's Elmar Mammadyarov (left) and Kazakhstan's Kairat Abdrakhmanov look on.

The leaders of the five Caspian Sea countries are meeting on August 12 in the Kazakh port city of Aqtau to sign a convention in efforts to solve major differences over the resource-rich body's legal status.

The proposed deal is expected to limit any military presence in the Caspian to the five signatory nations -- Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan -- and help spur economic development.

The foreign ministers of the five nations met in a preparatory meeting in Aqtau on August 11 to set the agenda for the leaders’ summit.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the ministers had reached agreement on immediate work going forward after the signing of the convention.

"The foreign ministers [of the nations] expressed satisfaction with the achieved level of cooperation and agreed on the modalities for future work on the Caspian Sea agenda after the upcoming signing of the convention," it said after ministerial-level meeting of the countries.

In making an announcement of the summit, the Kremlin on August 10 said that negotiations had taken more than two decades to get the nations to where they are now.

Debates on whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake have been ongoing since the Soviet Union fell apart in 1991, leaving five nations with shorelines on the inland sea instead of two -- the Soviet Union and Iran.

If deemed a lake, the five countries would draw lines extending from their shores to the midway point with littoral neighbors, while classifying it as a lake would mean the resources would be divided equally among those five countries.

The countries have been working on an agreement to resolve the issue since 1996, the Kremlin said.

At stake are resources including trillions of dollars’ worth of hydrocarbons in the seabed, which holds about 50 billion barrels of oil and nearly 9 trillion cubic meters of natural gas in proven or probable reserves.

A draft of the agreement, posted briefly on Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s website in June and obtained by RFE/RL, suggested that the countries would agree in Aqtau that the Caspian is a sea.

With reporting by dpa, TASS, and The Independent