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The Caspian Sea in the 21st Century

4/2/03 The Persian section of the VOA has recently talked to one of our frequent contributors, Dr. Bahman Aghai Diba regarding his newly published book: "The Caspian Sea in the 21st Century". Here is the translation of the points discussed in the interview, which was broadcasted on four parts on 24th and 25th of Feb. 2003

Q- what was your incentive by publishing this book? What did you want to say in a nutshell?

A- This book is the condensed results of many years of my personal involvement in the issues related to the Caspian Sea, since the days that Iran and the USSR behaved as if this water of water does not exist, up to now that the Caspian Sea region is one of the most important geopolitical points of the world and a part of the newly revived international geopolitical games.

The short text of this book which is less than a hundred pages, along with another hundred pages of documents and articles are in fact my report to everyone who is interested in the issues of the Caspian Sea, especially Iranians. My major incentive was to demonstrate that: The Caspian Sea has been the focus of states and peoples in and out of the Caspian Basin for the last decade. The littoral states are interested to get a good share of the Caspian Sea's resources. The industrial states are interested to get the oil and gas of the Caspian Sea to the world markets as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the peoples of littoral states, which are all ruled by undemocratic regimes, are concerned to see if their governments can get their suitable rights in the Caspian Sea. Peoples of these countries are aware that the highest priority for the undemocratic regimes is to safeguard their gripe of power, not the national interests. For the same reason, these people have been closely monitoring the activities of their respective governments in definition of the legal regime of the Caspian Sea. The present book gives almost all people, even those without legal or political backgrounds in this issue, an opportunity to see the realities of the case. How the respective governments in Azerbaijan, the Federation of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and especially, Iran have thought and acted regarding the situation of the Caspian Sea and their shares of out of it? The issue has a special reference to Iran because it has experienced a terrible situation in the Caspian Sea due to its unsuccessful management of the foreign policy and international relations, without showing enough attention to the clear realities of the power politics in the world and margins of maneuver for safeguarding national interests. Iran is going to get the smallest share of the Caspian Sea, whether it likes it or not. This is a serious defeat for a country that once owned the Caspian Sea along with the former Soviet Union. The fate of Iran in the Caspian Sea is a great lesson for the people and government of Iran. Also it must be noted that The Caspian Sea is not as calm as it looks. The legal issues in the Caspian Sea are a part of the bigger framework of circumstances created by the collapse of the former Soviet Union and emergence of new power politics in the region, fueled by finding of vast oil and gas reserves, and eagerness of new states to get their share of the Caspian resources. This has serious effects on all concerned countries and worth of many extensive studies.

Q- In one part of the book you have referred to the effects of the 11th of September incident in the USA over the Caspian Affairs. What are these effects?

A-The Most important development is the urgency felt by USA and Russia to get the Caspian oil and gas to the world markets as soon as possible. This is mostly due to the fact that the West is looking to find alternative sources of oil and gas, not related to OPEC, and especially Arab oil producing countries. The result has been a new wave of pressure by Russia and following that, other regional countries on Iran to work along with others in facilitating the activities of the Western oil and gas companies in the Caspian Sea.

Q- There is a reference to the issue of 50 % of the Caspian Sea belonging to Iran. As you are well aware many experts believe that this in not a reasonable claim due to the length of the Iranian coastline in the Caspian Sea.

A- this issue is mainly mentioned in one of the articles annexed to the text of the book. I have to say that in those articles, I have not looked at the issue of the Caspian Sea as impartial legal consultant, rather I have looked to the issue as a case offered to me in order to defend Iran's rights using the international law and even politics. From this point of view the beginning point for negotiation of the rights in the Caspian Sea is the claim of 50% for Iran. There was a common property; USSR is dead and the inheritors can share the heritage of the deceased. This position should not be given up so easily. Iran must get something from others before passing this stage. Those who say: look at your coastlines and then talk about the issue, are wrong. Look at the coastlines of the UK; do you see any thing there for justification of its sovereignty over Falkland (or Malvinas) in the vicinity of Argentine and Antarctic? Russians and Iranians were using this body of water for hundreds of years. Iran is historical country with a great population, legal documents and historical rights. At the same time, Iran is not is speedy need of Caspian resources, therefore it should play on such options as much as possible. May be we will have another kind of relations with the regional countries and out of region countries, especially the USA. The present weakness of Iranian situation in the Caspian Sera is not due to international law; rather it is the result of wrong policies.

Q- Are there any special sections of the book that you want to put emphasize on them?

A- Some of the most important points that I have tried to demonstrate, especially in the articles annexed to the book (some of them have been independently published in American and European websites and welcomed by various sources), are on concentrated on the point that the Islamic republic of Iran should not get hurried because all that happened and under internal and external pressures give up the national interests of Iran because:

1. Iran does not need the oil and gas of the Caspian Sea so quickly. There are vast resources of oil and gas in other areas of Iran, especially in the Persian Gulf. Exploration and exploitation of many areas in Iran are much easier and practical. Recently, a number of huge oil and gas reservoirs are found in the Iranian side of the Persian Gulf that some observers believe they are going to change some of the fundamental calculations in the world energy scene. There are so many areas inside Iran that have never been really examined for oil and gas resources.

2. I wish to indicate that Russians were exploiting the Caspian Sea as a common property, especially in Azerbaijan, and they did not pay the Iranian share. The only thing that Iran was getting was terrible pollution from oil exploration and exploitation. I think in some stage this issue should be addressed. The reality is that the Caspian Sea was a common property of Iran and the USSR. All those states should pay compensation to Iran, for unilateral using of the common property and tremendous pollution that they have caused during the last 50 years in the Caspian Sea.

3. The Caspian Sea is in serious environmental danger. Iran has a small share from polluting point of view, but it gets a much extensive part of pollution created by other countries because of the sea currents in the Caspian Sea. Russians are the greatest polluters. They create 80% of the Caspian pollution. After that, Azerbaijan is producing some of the worst kinds of pollutions because of their outdated oil refineries and other oil installations in the Caspian Sea. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are after Azerbaijan in the pollution production. The future of the Caspian Sea depends on how successful will be the Caspian littoral states in finding of a suitable formulas out of all these documents for protection of the unique environment of the Caspian Sea. The most visible ways in this line are as follows.

4. The last but not the least is the legal regime of the Volga-Don and Volga-Baltic waterways. I think the littoral states other than Russia should try to declare the Volga -Don waterway as an international waterway subject to the principles and rules of international law regarding the internationally used navigable waterways. This would mean that Russians couldn't stop ships traveling to the ports of other littoral countries in the Caspian Sea from using the canals. Of course, the Russians can impose any charges due to the services that they deem necessary. They may also try to establish a special regime for the passage from Volga-Don and Baltic waterway. There are several cases of special regimes like those of the Turkey's Bosporus and Dardanelle straits (connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmora). The states, which have been separated from the USSR, should insist on their rights as a former part of the USSR over those waterways. This means that the people and resources of these states have been used to make and run those waterways. Also, the newly independent states are entitled to many of the things that exist in the present Russian Federation.

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