MOSCOW – Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Tuesday a historic agreement had been reached with the foreign ministers of Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on a draft Caspian Sea convention.
“With great satisfaction I announce that we have found a solution to all the key issues. The text of the convention is practically ready,” Lavrov told reporters.
Russia’s top diplomat stressed that the five countries had put an end to 20 years of hard work to define the legal status of the Caspian.
“This text will be sent to the heads of state for their approval. We hope it will be approved,” he said.
Lavrov said he expected the convention would be signed at the next summit of Caspian states, which is scheduled for the first half of 2018 in Kazakhstan.
The Caspian, the largest lake in the world with an area of 370,886 square kilometers, was shared by Moscow and Tehran based on the terms of treaties signed in 1921 and 1940, but the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 – and the establishment of three new independent republics bordering the lake, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan – brought an end to that understanding.
The ex-Soviet countries support delimiting the Caspian Sea on the basis of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, but Iran has always preferred either a “condominium” approach whereby the littoral states jointly manage the lake’s resources or its division into five equal parts.
The key is to define if the Caspian, which has salt water but no outlet to the ocean, is a lake or a sea.
If it is determined to be a lake, the countries would be obliged to equitably share its resources, which include among the largest hydrocarbon reserves on the planet. But if it is a sea, they would have to proportionally delimit the area that corresponds to the different countries based on their respective coastlines.
In the latter case, Iran would have just 13 percent of the Caspian (and its less resource-rich sector), according to experts, who estimate that more than half of its oil is located near Kazakhstan’s shores.