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10/20/14

Caspian Summit: review of zones of national jurisdiction

By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea


Caspian Sea from space (NASA, June 4, 2010)

The Fourth Caspian Summit of the Caspian States was held on the 29th of September 2014 in Astrakhan of Russia. (1) The Summit failed to find a new legal regime for the Caspian Sea which was its most important mission and discussions on it have been going on for the last two decades between the littoral states of the Caspian Sea. The Summit did however produce a “joint declaration” which is claimed to be a cornerstone of a future convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. (2) The joint declaration talks about a 15-mile area of “national jurisdiction” and another 10 miles of exclusive fishing zones (25 miles collectively); beyond this limit, according to the declaration (which has a long distance from becoming an agreed point) will be considered “common water zone”.

What has been suggested in the joint declaration of the 4th Caspian Summit regarding the new zones is only about the waters of the Caspian Sea. Therefore, the very important issue of delimiting the Caspian Seabed still remains without any solution. The seabed is very important due to its the rich oil and gas resources. (3) At the same time, the issue of delimiting the adjacent and overlapping areas, the problems related to the baseline of measuring the zones is still pending. To this, you may also add the problems related to the meaning of “national jurisdiction zones”. Are they the same as the “territorial sea” in the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea or do they have a different set of rules? For a start, its distance from the baseline is not compatible with the 1982 convention’s regulations on the territorial sea.


Caspian Sea Countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan

While the parties to the Summit referred to the breakthrough and cooperation, the reality is that the heads of Caspian States continued to repeat their contradictory positions on the criteria for division of the Caspian Sea. Iran’s president, Ruhani, reiterated the necessity to use “equity” in dividing the Caspian Sea. Iran has made it clear in the past that what it means by equity is a 20% share for each of the littoral states. Also, in the Iranian position, unlike the Russian-Azeri-Kazakhstani proposals, the water and the seabed are divided. Using the Iranian position regarding the division of the Caspian Sea into 20% sections results in the elimination of Iran-Russia water borders (Iran-Russia land borders eliminated after collapse of the USSR in 1991) but, using MML (Modified Median Line) does not have this effect. According to the Russian formula of MML, the Caspian Seabed is divided on the basis of shores and the waters are left to be regarded as common. This is the same formula that leaves Iran with the smallest portion of the Caspian seabed (under 12 percent).

The president of Azerbaijan has said “The Caspian Sea should remain a zone of peace, friendship, cooperation, and good neighborliness” but added “These agreements [the bilateral agreements on the demarcation of the Caspian Sea between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia on the basis of median line - or length of coasts] play an important role in a comprehensive settlement of the legal status of the Caspian Sea.... Azerbaijan believes that the principles set out in these agreements are a good basis for reaching agreements on the Caspian Sea demarcation between all littoral countries.” (4) Azerbaijani president has also said “The general principle of using a median line as a fundamental norm for seabed demarcation is inevitable.” (5) The Kazak and Russian parties have made it clear that they share this idea.

The conclusion is that:

  1. The suggestion for establishment of new zones is still subject to many issues that should be decided by the Caspian littoral states.
  2. The idea of making a major part of the Caspian Sea as a common area, at the moment is a great favor to the Russians. The Russians have a major naval presence in the Caspian Sea. The other littoral states have not even an effective coastal guard. Also, the Russians have advanced industrial fishing fleet in the Caspian Sea. The others including Iran have outdated and ancient type of fishing boats that hardly leave the coastal areas.
  3. Iran and Russia have not the same interests in the Caspian Sea.

Notes:
(1) Astrakhan is a city in Russia on the banks of Volga River close to where Volga flows into the Caspian Sea.
(2) http://www.astanatimes.com/2014/10/caspian-summit-astrakhan-make-breakthrough-on-road-to-convention
(3 ) Oil and gas resources of the Caspian Sea are estimated to be almost 4 billion tons which ranks second in the world after the Persian Gulf.
(4) http://www.azernews.az/region/7136.html (Caspian Summit in Astrakhan finalizes with breakthrough)
(5) Ibid.

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