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By Safa Haeri
Posted Monday, April 5, 2004

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MOSCOW 5 Apr. (IPS) Kamal Kharrazi, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Iran called Monday for a "friendly and just" solution to the crippling problem of dividing the Caspian Sea waters.

Arriving to the Russian Capital for taking part at a meeting of foreign affairs ministers of the world’s biggest land-locked lake littoral states to discuss the Sea’s legal status aas from Tuesday, he said Iran was working hard to find a "just solution acceptable to all neighbouring states", but did not spelled out details of the solution Iran is seeking.

Sources close to the meeting told Iran Press Service that the ministers are expected to discuss ways of removing obstacles to the sharing of the waters and its huge energy resources, including finding a "viable" convention on legal regime" of the Caspian Sea.

"Iran is working hard to find a just solution acceptable to all neighbouring states" Kamal Kharrazi said


While Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have already defined their deep water borders and exploits its natural resources, including oil and natural gas, Iran calls for a condominium, or common sovereignty, over the Sea and has made it known that it will reject any unilateral action for energy exploration before the issue of the legal regime is settled.

Iran insists that the waters must be divided on equal shares of twenty per cent for each coastal nation while it would not get more than 13 if the waters are allocated according to each country’s coast that give Kazakhstan 33 per cent, Russia 19, Azerbaijan 18 and Turkmenistan 17 per cent.

Two years ago, Iran threatened Azerbaijan with military action with sendin gunboats and warplanes after oil exploring ships working for Azerbaijan’s State Oil Company started working in waters that Iran claims sovereignty.

For its part, Turkmenistan, due to disputes with Azerbaijan, has also refused to define its water borders with other neighbours.

"This meeting is considered as a good opportunity for exchanging views on issues of the Caspian Sea at the foreign ministerial level", he told journalists on his arrival, adding one has to held each other in trying to find a solution that would satisfy all parties".

The Caspian Sea is believed to hold the world's third-largest oil and natural gas reserves and a general consensus of territorial issue is seen as vital for the development and export of the region’s natural resources.


"The countries of the Caspian region should settle the problems by themselves, in a family way, so to speak, without attracting mediators," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny said


But observers noted that for the first time, Tehran was not trumpeting on its known position of sharing the waters, softening its attitude that has kept many international oil companies from entering the lucrative market.

"The Islamic Republic always supports the resolution of issues relating to the Caspian Sea and in Moscow too would outline its stances and call for the
exploitation of Caspian resources by all its littoral states and cooperation among them in various fields", the official news agency IRNA quoted Mr. Hamid Reza Asefi, the senior spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Affairs Ministry as having said.

The meeting would also examine the possibility of holding the next heads of state meeting of the Caspian littoral countries in Tehran, he added.

"The five states have tried to keep a lid on their differences since the legal regime of the land-locked waters was catapulted to the core of the dispute following the collapse of the Soviet Union", IRNA noted in a dispatch from Tehran.

Kharrazi also voiced Tehran opposition to the presence of foreigners in the region, a reference to the presence of American forces in neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Russia that is also against the presence of foreigner in the region has warned the United States to “not interfere in talks on delineating the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

"The countries of the Caspian region should settle the problems by themselves, in a family way, so to speak, without attracting mediators," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kalyuzhny, a presidential envoy on the Caspian basin, said in an interview published in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, adding that "the external factor will only cause problems". ENDS CASPIAN MEETING 5404



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