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03/13/15

Caspian Sea: is Iran changing its position on the Caspian legal regime?

By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister has expressed optimism that the legal status of the Caspian Sea could finally be resolved at the next summit of Caspian littoral states. He said after a meeting of the working group on the Caspian Sea on March 5 the sides have reached complete agreement on six provisions of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea. However, noting lack of change in the positions of other littoral states of the Caspian Sea regarding the criteria for division of the Caspian Sea, the question arises whether Iran is getting ready to change its positions.

The position of Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan at the moment is based on the Russian formula of Modified Median Line (MML) which divides the Caspian Seabed according to the median or equidistance line (extension of their land borders) and leaves the superjacent waters for navigation of all littoral countries. Turkmenistan is inclined to accept this formula with some changes; however, it is not ready to accept any formula that reduces its share in favor of Iran.

Division of the Caspian Seabed (only) on the basis of a MML means the more coastal area you have, the more area of the Caspian Sea you get. According to the MML, Russia and Azerbaijan get almost twenty percent (each of them), Kazakhstan gets 30 percent, Turkmenistan gets almost 17 percent and Iran gets almost 13 percent of the Caspian Seabed.

The position of Iran is to divide the Caspian Sea according to equity (20% for each). Iranian position about the possible division of the Caspian Sea is not limited to the “seabed” (unlike MML) and Iran is asking for a complete division of the sea. This kind of division will lead to:

There is no change in the positions of other littoral states of the Caspian Sea. The apparent trend is that Russians have concluded agreements with Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to divide the seabed on the basis of the MML and they are putting pressure on others, especially Turkmenistan, to do the same. Azerbaijan Republic and Kazakhstan have already concluded similar agreements.

Therefore, the most important issue for the legal regime of the Caspian Sea is not going to be the result of some technical legal experts meeting. This is related to many factors, including the international and regional geopolitics and power politics. In this context, the government of Iran is in the worst situation:

  1. It is being accused by other states in and out of the region, of being an obstacle for reaching a unanimous agreement on the Caspian sea legal regime
  2. Iranian government’s heavy reliance on Russia due to the conflict of Iran with the Western powers, especially due to the nuclear program of Iran and its implications (sanctions and international isolation), has limited Iran’s maneuverers in front of the Russians.
  3. Iran lacks the support of other countries
  4. The prospects of referral of the issue to an international arbitration or judicial body is high and the possibility of such an organization voting in favor of Iran (while almost the entire major powers of the world and almost all regional countries including the other littoral states of the Caspian sea, are on the opposing side ) is extremely low.
  5. The people of Iran are seriously worried about the capability of the Iranian government to protect their interest in the Caspian Sea

The text of the draft convention for the legal regime of the Caspian Sea has been ready for many years. However the most important issue that should be addressed in the convention, which is the criteria for division of the Caspian Sea, has been left blank.

It seems that unless the Iranian regime has gotten ready to modify its previous positions on the criteria for the legal regime of the Caspian Sea, there is nothing new in the draft convention that is going to be presented to the next summit meeting of the Caspian Littoral states in Kazakhstan sometime at the end of the current year. The other states of the Caspian Sea have not hinted to any inclination to accept the positions of Iran partly or entirely, and at the same time, there is no indication that any of them has changed its positions on the criteria for the division of the Caspian Sea in a way that increases the possible share of Iran from almost 13 percent (according to the MML) to something near 20 percent (that Iran has been claiming so far).

Related Article: Iranian Official Says Caspian Legal Status Nearly Resolved, 03/05/2015

 

Bahman A Diba, PhD International Law of the Seas, is the author of several books. His latest books were published in 2011:

 

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