The Iranian foreign ministry says the recent convention signed by Iran, Turkmenistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan Republic on the Caspian Sea’s legal regime ensures the interests of all the five nations.
The Foreign Ministry made the announcement in a recent statement it released to dismiss speculations about the Convention.
In the statement, the Foreign Ministry’s Centre for Public Diplomacy and Media responded to the following frequently asked questions regarding the recent summit of the heads of the Caspian Sea littoral states held in the city of Aktau in Kazakhstan.
- Generally speaking, when did the Caspian Sea summits begin?
Following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the first summit of the heads of the Caspian Sea littoral states was held in Tehran. The issue of the sea’s environment was discussed and approved at that meeting. A 25-article political statement was also issued at the summit. Later on, several other meetings were held in different countries where various issues pertaining to the Caspian Sea were discussed.
- What are the objectives of the Caspian Sea summit, and what achievement Iran would like to see the summit have?
After two months of negotiations between the five Caspian Sea littoral states, the convention on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea was finalized and approved by coastal states thanks to the positive will of the heads of the five states and the friendly and constructive atmosphere ruling the meetings. The littoral states signed up on the text of the convention as well as six other agreements on the sidelines of the summit in Aktau in Kazakhstan. The convention has been hammered out through the consensus of the five countries and following thousands of hours of discussions. The convention ensures the interests of all littoral countries and can be regarded as an invaluable document in Iran’s foreign relations. Twenty-one days ago, a protocol on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was signed as well. These events herald a very bright future for our nations and governments.
- What are the six other documents mentioned above, which were signed along with the protocol on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea?
They include documents on transportation and transit, trade and economy, fighting terrorism, combating organized crime, border cooperation and prevention of military conflicts.
- What is the importance of signing the convention on the Caspian Sea’s legal regime?
The convention on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is like countries’ constitutions, i.e. it is an overarching document and a framework based on which the rights and commitments of the littoral states are determined. Based on these general principles, the Caspian Sea coastal states will turn to details by signing agreements on specific matters. The signature of the convention on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is a very significant step being taken and caps 21-year negotiations which have been underway in that regard. Nevertheless, it should be acknowledged that the convention is not the end of all talks and measures on the Caspian Sea; rather, it serves as watershed and a starting point for the implementation of already reached agreements and supervision on their implementation. It also paves the way for negotiations to clinch new and necessary deals.
- Are there any other unsettled issues regarding the Caspian Sea which need to be further discussed by littoral states in the future?
Almost 90% of the convention on the Caspian Sea littoral states has been finalized and was signed in Aktau. Only two issues, namely designation of base lines and demarcation of the seabed and what lies under the seabed, have remained which need further discussions by all five countries. We hope that these two cases are also finalized as soon as possible through the cooperation of all littoral states. So, the countries rimming the Caspian Sea have reached a unique consensus, which is regarded as a victory for them all.
- When will the base lines and boundaries be determined?
It is stipulated in the above-said convention that base lines for the sea’s legal regime must be determined through consensus by all five littoral states later on. Of course, some points are mentioned in the convention regarding the base lines. One of the clauses of the convention particularly mentions that the coastal conditions of some of the littoral states are such that they require special regulations. This clause is very important for us. However, base lines have not yet been determined in the convention and should be specified in future agreements. The convention does not provide for the limits of the boundaries on and underneath the seabed either, and they are supposed to be determined in the future as well. This has been one of the issues which the five littoral states have been discussing for around 22 years now.
- What are the specifications of the Caspian Sea’s legal regime?
The Caspian Sea is, in fact, a lake whose legal regime naturally has its own specific features and is different from that of the high seas as mentioned in the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Caspian Sea littoral states have modeled the sea’s legal regime after that of other lakes, and at the same time have drawn on the provisions of the Convention of the Law of the Sea and adapted them to the situation of the Caspian Sea, coming up with a special and unique legal regime for the Caspian Sea. It is stipulated in the convention that all legal issues of the Caspian Sea must be settled through consensus by the five littoral states, which is a very important point and completely distinguishes the convention on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea from the Convention on the Law of the Sea. Moreover, the convention pertaining to the Caspian Sea forbids foreign military vessels from plying across the sea. This issue is very important for the national security of the Caspian Sea littoral countries. It is stipulated in the convention that the boundaries for the territorial waters of the coastal countries will be determined, and the locations for fishing and movement of vessels will be specified. On the whole, this is a very important convention that brings us one step forward, though very important issues have remained to be resolved in the future.
- Why have negotiations to draw up the convention on the Caspian Sea’s legal regime dragged on for so long?
Immediately after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the formation of four independent republics around the Caspian Sea, talks began on how to determine a comprehensive legal regime for the Caspian Sea that would enable all littoral states to enjoy the privileges and resources of the Caspian Sea within a specific framework. Given the differences of opinion among the littoral states on different issues, the negotiations have dragged on until now, and as it was mentioned earlier, discussions still continue on the determination of base lines as well the demarcation of the seabed and what lies under the seabed. We hope we will be able to finalize these issues as well through the cooperation of other countries. In other words, the littoral states have not yet reached consensus on these important issues.
- What will the military and security situation of the Caspian Sea be like, and will third countries have a military presence there?
As agreed by the littoral states, the Caspian Sea will be a sea of peace and friendship for the coastal nations, and other countries are not allowed to have a military presence in the sea. Moreover, the movement of vessels in the sea will take place only under the flags of the five littoral states. Furthermore, the five states cannot allow other countries to use their territories to launch aggression against any of the littoral states. It is good news that, as stipulated in the convention, all five littoral states are of the opinion that movement of ships in the sea is allowed only under the flags of the coastal states and that the presence and movement of foreign military forces in the sea is forbidden.
- Given the existence of rich oil resources in the Caspian Sea, have the littoral states reached any agreement on the exploitation of the oil deposits?
The oil reserves which are not subject to disagreement will be developed by relevant littoral states. As for the common resources or the ones that are a bone of contention, the principle is that the two or three countries which have interests in that regard should reach agreement and exploit the oil resources accordingly. If the countries cannot reach agreement, those resources will not be exploited.
- How important is the issue of transit in the Caspian Sea for Iran?
Transit is one of the very significant issues for the Caspian Sea as well as its littoral states and regional countries. The east of the Caspian Sea, i.e. Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, is linked to Iran through which the two countries are also connected to the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman to the south of Iran. Steps have also been taken to link the west of the Caspian Sea to other regions, and the Astara-Astara project has been implemented to this end. We are considering the implementation of a project to lay a railway line connecting [Iran’s] Rasht to [Azerbaijan’s] Astara, which will be done by the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Azerbaijan Republic. Through these major corridors in the east and west of the Caspian Sea and through this important transit route, Iran and many Asian countries will be connected to Central Asia, the Caucasus, Russia and Europe.
- Will other issues regarding cooperation among littoral states be on the agenda at the summit?
The Caspian Sea coastal countries enjoy very good potentialities and opportunities, especially in terms of economy, transportation, the transit of goods and passengers, and tourism, which will be discussed alongside other issues on the agenda. The Caspian Sea has oil and gas resources, which can contribute to development. Cooperation among littoral states on the extraction and exploitation of oil as well as oil and gas swap are among the issues which have always been a subject of discussion between Iran and other littoral countries, and discussion on those issues will continue at this summit as well.