Watching Govenment: Splitting waters

Aug. 21, 2000
The problem of dividing the Caspian Sea's energy resources is, of course, tougher than the problem of finding them.

The problem of dividing the Caspian Sea's energy resources is, of course, tougher than the problem of finding them.

The five nations with Caspian coastlines (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran) have been at odds for the past 6 years over ownership of the Caspian.

Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin has delegated Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kaluzhny, the former energy minister, to be his Caspian envoy. But Kaluzhny does not appear to be close to resolving the diplomatic impasse.

For the past 2 years, Russia has been proposing that the five nations divide the Caspian seabed but hold the surface waters in common.

As an amendment, it proposed that the five nations share any oil and gas resources that straddle a bilateral border. Observers say that was an attempt to resolve all existing bilateral and multilateral disagreements at the same time.

But conflicts of interests between the five nations are proving to be too complex.

Iran's stance

Iran rejected Kaluzhny's efforts to strike a deal when he recently visited Tehran.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi restated Iran's long-held position that it is entitled to either joint ownership of the Caspian or a minimum 20% share.

Iran has done almost no Caspian exploration of its own and has a lot to gain from taking a hard line in the negotiations.

Kharrazi reportedly reacted positively to Russia's proposal for sharing borderline oil and gas resources, a concept that could give it a stronger claim to the oil-rich sector off Azerbaijan.

Kaluzhny's bargaining position in Tehran was weak. Before going to Iran, he tried to strike agreements with Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.

If that was part of a strategy aimed at presenting Tehran with a unified front, it failed. Kaluzhny was unable to persuade any of those nations to commit to an overall settlement, only making the discord more obvious.


Meanwhile, Azerbaijan and Iran have quickly resolved a Caspian Sea border dispute of their own.

The two governments exchanged bitter words after-according to Azerbaijani officials-Iranian boats crossed into its territorial waters and removed a boundary buoy.

Later, Iranian leader Mohammad Khatami visited the northern border town of Ardebil. He said, "Azerbaijan is laying claims to some boundary areas on the Caspian Sea. Iran is not going to attack or quarrel with its neighbors, but it will decisively defend [its] historic rights."

But the two nations resolved their dispute and agreed to establish a commission for joint geological and mineral research along their Caspian border.

That deal was announced the same day that Kaluzhny opened talks with Iranian officials in Tehran.

That prompted speculation that Iran only negotiated a token pact with Azerbaijan in order to hand Kaluzhny an informal message: that the other four nations bordering the Caspian are capable of reaching Caspian Sea deals on their own.