Iran rejects idea that a Caspian Sea settlement is in sight

By bne IntelliNews December 17, 2017

Iran’s foreign ministry has rejected the suggestion that the five littoral states that share the shore of the Caspian Sea have largely agreed to delineate its maritime borders and settle their differences, Iran Front Page (IFP) reported on December 16.

On December 13, Eurasianet cited comments by Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign affairs minister, that indicated that Russia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan—which have debated the status of the Caspian Sea, in terms of whether it is a lake or a sea, and its maritime borders since the dissolution of the Soviet Union—were at long last on the verge of an agreement. The rich oil and gas reserves under the sea have meant that the arguments over where exactly the maritime borders should be have remained tough to solve.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi rejected the idea that a deal was in sight, saying: “Given the deep disagreements between the member states over the demarcation issue, it seems there will be no deal in the near future. Meanwhile, discussing all the details during [what were only‘] convention talks is not possible at all.”

He added: “The convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea is a structural convention which (like other similar conventions) includes only main principles and outlines of each country’s basic rights and duties in various fields because it is not possible at all to include all details in such conventions.”

Qassemi stressed that during the recent Moscow convention meeting no document was signed or endorsed. Participants simply agreed to adopt some legal measures following internal coordination and expert-level meetings between the five member states.

The unclear status of the sea has long been a reason for Russia to block large-scale oil and gas transportation schemes, such as a gas pipeline connecting Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan, from traversing the sea. Should an agreement be reached, the projects could finally take place. Unable to transport its reserves across the Caspian Sea and onwards to Europe, gas-rich Turkmenistan has focused on selling them to China instead.

However, the demand for oil and gas in Europe has changed enough in the last two decades to make economic considerations a new hurdle that Turkmenistan would have to overcome in using the Caspian Sea route.

Thanks to directives passed in 2009 and 2015, the European Union has mandated member states to increase renewable and clean energy and energy efficiency. Thus, investments in fossil fuel infrastructure are believed to be at risk of becoming stranded assets. 

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